Parents Boycotting School Census


As from September 2016, parents and guardians of school children in England are being asked for information regarding their child’s country of birth and language skills. According to a recent report in The Guardian, parents have been campaigning to stop schools collecting this data for fear it will be used by the Home Office to identify foreign-born families.

What is the census?

Every term all state schools collect information about their pupils for the Department for Education (DfE). The census, which traditionally includes details about a pupil’s age, address and academic attainments, now also includes proficiency in English, country of birth, pupil nationality, traineeships (for secondary schools) and a unique property reference number.

What happens to the data?

All collected data is stored in the national pupil database (NPD). The DfE uses the information for funding and planning.

Why is information about the child’s country of birth needed by the DfE?

The DfE insist that data regarding childrens’ countries of birth and their language skills are necessary to ensure adequate support is targeted to those who need it.

Why are people worried?

Following Brexit, the timing of the census has heightened fears amongst some that the data will be used by the Home Office to identify them. The blog Against Borders for Children set up by Mae Bradley to highlight issues around immigration Law, argues that the new policy is “unnecessary, divisive and puts vulnerable children at risk.”

Who can access the data?

Access to the NPD is restricted, and conditions of access include compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998. Campaigners against the collection of sensitive data argue that the Home Office has a record of accessing other government department data. The Huffington Post revealed that disclosures under freedom of information laws illustrate that NPD data was previously handed to the Home Office in 2012.

Schoolsweek published a response from a DfE spokesperson, who insisted that “Collecting this data will be used to help us better understand how children with, for example, English as an additional language perform in terms of their broader education, and to assess and monitor the scale and impact immigration may be having on the schools sector.

“Data on pupils’ country of birth, nationality and level of English proficiency is collected through the school census in line with the national population census.

“These data items will not be passed to the Home Office. They are solely for internal DfE use for analysis, statistics and research.”

Do parents and guardians have to comply?

While schools are obliged to ask parents for the census information, parents and guardians can refuse to provide that information. Schools can record that information in their return as a refusal. Although, they also have the option to record as ‘not yet obtained’ or ‘not known.’

No, schools or teachers do not need to see any proof of nationality or country of birth, and should not be asking to see any documents with their request for census information.

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