Liberty and ABC lodge complaint to get Government data on foreign children deleted

14 December 2018

A coalition of teachers, parents and campaigners has today taken legal action to force the Government to delete data it holds on schoolchildren’s nationalities and countries of birth – and prevent any pupil information being used to enforce the hostile environment.

Represented by human rights organisation Liberty, Against Borders for Children (ABC) is calling on the Information Commissioner’s Office to order the destruction of nationality and birth country data held by the Department for Education (DfE), and demand an end to all data-sharing between the Department and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.

ABC contends that holding onto children’s nationality and country of birth data is unnecessary and serves no educational purpose – and sharing any pupil information with the Home Office breaches data protection laws.

The coalition also argues these practices violate children’s fundamental human right to privacy and must be brought to an immediate end.

Under a memorandum of understanding implemented in June 2015 the Department for Education (DfE) agreed to give the personal details of up to 1,500 schoolchildren to the Home Office each month to “create a hostile environment” for migrants.

In April 2018, the DfE announced it was suspending its deal with the Home Office and in June 2018 it said that schools would no longer be required to collect nationality and country of birth data in the school census.

But the Department has refused to delete information that has been collected on approximately 8.6 million children since September 2016. Figures released on 13 December showed that between October 2017 and September 2018, the Home Office requested data on 835 children from the DfE and the Department provided data in 247 cases.

Representing Against Borders for Children, Kwadwo Kyerewaa said:

“BAME and migrant communities have joined with civil society organisations to demand an end to the hostile environment in classrooms in England. We agree with Sir Michael Wilshaw that schools shouldn't be used for border control. It is time that the Department for Education lives up to its purpose and ensure that every child right to education without fear of immigration enforcement. Today’s data share statistics show that families are providing data that has been repurposed for immigration enforcement without their informed consent. We hope the ICO will put an end to this shameful and shocking practice.”

Lara ten Caten, Lawyer for Liberty and ABC’s solicitor, said:

“Amassing this data was never about education – it was a xenophobic attack on children’s rights by a Government obsessed with deportations no matter the human cost. The DfE has agreed to stop collecting this toxic information, there can be no reason for the Department to hold onto it. “Everyone has a right to an education and no parent should fear sending their child to school. We are hopeful the Information Commissioner will strike a blow to the hostile environment by forcing the deletion of these foreign children lists and that he will ask Parliament to put a stop to any sharing of schoolchildren’s information that serves no educational purpose.”

Nationality and country of birth data

From September 2016, the Department for Education required schools to collect children’s nationality and country of birth data in the termly school census.

The policy was overturned in June 2018 following the start of legal proceedings by Liberty and ABC, and a boycott organised by the coalition group which saw thousands of families in England actively refuse to provide the requested information.

Despite the Government climb-down, the Secretary of State for Education has refused to erase the data which was obtained through the census.

ABC and Liberty have today officially complained about the retention of data to the ICO, maintaining that keeping hold of it is unnecessary because it serves no educational purpose.

Information is already gathered on the number of students for whom English is not a first language. The country where a child was born or which issues their passport has no additional bearing on their ability to learn – and so the extra data has no value.

As there is no need to keep this information, doing so constitutes an unjustified interference with children’s right to privacy protected by the Human Rights Act and is arguably unlawful.

The organisations have asked the ICO to order the DfE to destroy the data it holds.

Hostile environment data-sharing

Liberty and ABC have also complained about the DfE’s data-sharing practices.

In the letter to the ICO, Liberty asserts it is unlawful for the DfE to provide the Home Secretary with pupil information. Organisations which can receive such information are named within the law. The Home Office is not included.

Sharing information on schoolchildren with the Home Office also breaches data protection rules as parents are not informed their children’s data might be processed for immigration enforcement purposes.”

Handing over pupil information to achieve non-educational objectives also constitutes a breach of children’s fundamental right to privacy protected by the Human Rights Act – and so the data-sharing agreement is also arguably unlawful.

Care Don’t Share – a “firewall” to stop all government data-sharing with the Home Office

The full extent of backroom data-sharing deals between key government departments and the Home Office was recently revealed a new report by Liberty.

The report – drawn from year-long research, interviews and freedom of information requests - shows in unprecedented detail how, across the education, health and policing systems, secretive agreements were made to enable the sharing of people’s personal data.

This means private information belonging to thousands of people can be unknowingly used against them by immigration officials seeking to deport them or limit their access to important care as part of the Government’s “hostile environment” policy.

The effect is that now many people, including children, are often too scared to access vital services, and that public sector workers are often unknowingly complicit in a system – made possible in part by discriminatory exemptions in data protection law - that deprives people of some of their most basic rights.

As a result, Liberty has launched its “Care Don’t Share” campaign, which calls on public sectors workers, unions and members of the public to sign a pledge and support the creation of a data “firewall” - a cast-iron promise that personal information collected by trusted public services will not be shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.

The campaign is supported by the National Education Union, the UK’s largest education union representing over 450,000 teachers, teaching assistants and lecturers.