Schools census used to enforce immigration laws

Tuesday 15th January 2019 08:23 EST

The government has revoked parents’ right to retract information on their children’s nationality and country of birth submitted to the schools census, months before Brexit throws the immigration status of 3 million European residents into doubt.

Officials from the Department for Education (DfE) collected the data on 6 million schoolchildren in England, before it was halted last June in the face of opposition from critics who said it was an attempt to turn schools into internal border checkpoints.

Confusion over the policy had already led some schools to instruct only pupils who were not “white British” to bring in identity documents, spreading alarm that it was encouraging racism and a culture of institutional hostility to migrants. Now ministers have confirmed that not only will they continue to store the data already collected, but also that parents can no longer ask schools to enter “refused”, which instructs the DfE to delete their children’s data.

Schools and families have not been informed of the change in policy, which was revealed in an answer to a parliamentary question last month. Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said the “last opportunity for parents to retract [nationality and country of birth] information was via the last [schools census] collection in summer 2018”.

Other data from the DfE will still be used for immigration enforcement, Gibb added. “Where the police or Home Office have clear evidence that a child may be at risk or evidence of criminal activity, including immigration, [that] pupil’s address and school details may be requested from the national pupil database,” he said in response to a separate question. Both questions were tabled by David Lammy, the Labour MP.

The schools census is a termly collection of details of pupils in every state school by the DfE. It includes details such as age, address and academic attainment, which are recorded in the national pupil database. Figures released in December showed that in the year to September 2018 the Home Office requested data on 835 children from the DfE, which provided it in 247 cases.

When concerns were first raised about collection of children’s nationality and country of birth, the DfE had insisted that the new data would not be shared with immigration enforcement authorities, that it was only being collected for “analytical, statistical and research purposes”, and that parents could opt out whenever they wanted.

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