Government facing Lords opposition over widely condemned “foreign children list” – as new figures reveal extent of Home Office school data use
28 October 2016
The Government faces Lords opposition on Monday (31 October) as peers debate its widely criticised attempt to harvest school children’s nationality data – with peers expected to challenge and condemn the policy.
Since September 2016, schools and colleges in England have been required by the Department for Education (DfE) to ask parents if their children are foreign nationals and where they were born.
This new foreign children list will be collected through the Early Years Census and School Census and then permanently stored in the National Pupil Database (NPD) – leading to fears it could be exploited by in-country immigration enforcement to target children, and deter vulnerable families from accessing essential services and exercising their rights.
Figures made public by Education Minister Nick Gibb yesterday – in response to a question from Caroline Lucas MP – reveal the Home Office requested DfE data relating to more than 2,462 individuals between July 2015 and September 2016.
Opposition across the House
On Monday, the House of Lords will debate the measure – the first parliamentary debate on the controversial policy.
The debate has been triggered by a Motion of Regret, tabled by Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Lord Storey. The motion “regrets that nationality/COB data collected under these regulations could be used to help determine a child’s immigration status” – and looks set to receive support from across the House.
The new power was created via a ‘statutory instrument’ and – though already in force – can still be rejected by Parliament, forcing its withdrawal. Opposition parties are preparing to oppose the measure in the Commons.
Border control in our classrooms
Against Borders for Children (ABC) – a coalition of parents, teachers, schools, data protection and rights campaigners, including Liberty – has called for a boycott until the power is reversed.
The National Union of Teachers has also called for this use of pupil data to end, emphasising that “schools are not part of policing immigration”.
A Freedom of Information request by children’s privacy and digital rights group defenddigitalme has revealed the Home Office has accessed the NPD 18 times between 2012 and 2016. On each occasion, the department could have accessed data on a large number of children.
Bella Sankey, Director of Policy for Liberty, said: “The Government is starting to face a serious backlash against its poisonous ‘hostile environment’ policies. First ministers had to pull their misguided plans for foreign worker lists – now their creation of a foreign national children list could be thwarted too.
“In recent months we have seen migrant communities vilified and treated as bargaining chips. Instead of sowing yet more division and mistrust, we urge the Lords to uphold the safety and dignity of children and send a message to Government that this divisive and unnecessary policy must scrapped.”
Gracie Mae Bradley, co-founder of Against Borders for Children, said: “In the context of spiralling hate crime following the EU referendum, the last thing the Government should be doing is implementing a policy that singles out migrant children as young as two years old, implying they are 'different'.
“Following hospitals, employers, banks and even landlords, this intrusion of border controls into the classroom is a further disquieting sign of the hostile environment the government wants to create. Amber Rudd was rightly forced to climb down over her proposals for foreign workers. Justine Greening’s plans to list foreign children should go the same way.”
Jen Persson, Coordinator of defenddigitalme, said: “The reasons for this school census expansion are too few and the risks too great to entrust the Government with more personal confidential data until full transparency, safeguards and oversight are put in place for all uses of the data already held. The Government must answer why identifiable data on individual pupils is going out to journalists and commercial businesses without parental consent and take accountability for how this new data might be used, not only today but under any future change of policy.
“We need to be able to trust not what they say, but what they do, and what they have done so far is highly concerning. Having snuck this Statutory Instrument through in the six week recess without clear due diligence, any assessment of privacy or ethics, it must now receive the public and parliamentary scrutiny this invasive policy requires.”
ABC wrote to Education Secretary Justine Greening on 26 September calling on her to scrap the new requirement and raising concerns that it violates families’ right to privacy.