UK Home Office slurps 1,500 schoolkids' records per month

Wants to create 'hostile environment' for illegal immigrants

Schoolkids in uniform studying with books/apple. Photo by shutterstock

Brit schools are sharing the census records of up to 1,500 pupils per month as part of an attempt by the Home Office to crack down on illegal immigrants.

The agreement has been in place since June 2015 under a memorandum of understanding with the Department for Education (DfE). The information came to light after it was released under a Freedom of Information request to privacy group Defend Digital Me seen by The Register.

It said the strategic aims of the data sharing agreement were to "re-establish contact with children and families the Home Office has lost contact with and trace immigration offenders" as well as protecting the "interest and safety of any child" and reducing the "harm resulting from abuse of immigration control."

But it also stated the intent was to "combat illegal migrant working and those that benefit from it" and "create a hostile environment for those who seek to benefit from the abuse of immigration control".

Under the agreement, pupils' names, addresses, post codes and dates of birth are to be shared with Visas & Immigration, Immigration Enforcement (the work previously undertaken by the former UK Border Agency) and Border Force.

However, it appears that details on nationality will not be provided to the agencies.

The DfE's National Pupil Database now contains records of 20 million pupils and former pupils, dating from the year 2000. That information includes names, postcodes, ethnicity, records on absence, reasons for exclusion, types of disability, and whether the pupil is a recipient of free school meals.

Controversially, the DfE has extended its use to include information on pupils' nationality collected through the school census from this September. Privacy campaigners have argued that amounts to turning the DfE into a border control body.

But Nick Gibb, minister for School Standards, gave assurances that no other departments would be granted access to the data on pupils’ nationality.

Earlier this year the DfE admitted that the database had already been used to control immigration - but did not reveal the extent to which it had been used.

Jen Persson, coordinator of defenddigitalme, said: "The Department for Education seems to have been bullied into a corner to meet Home Office divisive demands but our schools are no place for bullies, or border guards.

"This new school census collection has lost all legitimacy. It can’t continue to grab every child's personal data under false pretences of the purposes it’s for. It’s time to call off the changes in the school census before its next due date on January 19 and a review needs to take place, with full transparency, safeguards and independent oversight built into its safe management."

She said the programme threatened to undermine public trust in all data collection by the department, and urged that parents and schools withdraw their autumn submissions of the nationality, country of birth and language.

"It has evidently zero educational or funding purpose. It’s all about the Home Office, and the immigration Taskforce creating a hostile environment, but they’re taking every child’s privacy as part of it."

A DfE spokesperson said: “Without evidence and data, we cannot have a clear picture of how the school system is working. We take privacy extremely seriously and access to sensitive data is strictly controlled.” ®

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