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Monday, January 14, 2019

Government uses English school data to enforce immigration rules

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

They say that officials from the Department for Education (DfE) collected the data on 6 million English schoolchildren, 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:

They add that 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.

The significance of this is in what the data is being used for, apparently in defiance of data protection laws:

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.

But when it emerged that names and addresses of children collected through the census had since 2015 been secretly shared every month with immigration enforcement, thousands of parents in 2016 heeded calls by human rights groups and teachers’ unions to boycott the questions.

After a freedom of information battle, campaigners subsequently exposed a memorandum of understanding between the DfE and the Home Office that showed that officials had originally intended for nationality and birth country data to be used for immigration enforcement.

In a move that suggests ministers had misled public over their plans, the memorandum had been quietly amended some months after public opposition emerged – and after assurances had already been given – to remove references to nationality and country of birth.

This sharing of data, for purposes it was not originally collected for, must be contrary to the new (and even previous) data protection regulations. Let's hope that the Welsh and Scottish Governments are not party to it.
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