The confirmation yesterday afternoon that the Department for Education (DfE) is to end the collection of nationality and country of birth data in schools in England has been hailed as a “comprehensive victory” by Against Borders for Children (ABC), which was set up in September 2016 to fight this policy.
More than 500 people donated a total of more than £12,000 to fund a court action to overturn UK Government policy on this issue, represented by Liberty.
The collection of this data on children in English schools had been part of the Prime Minister’s “hostile environment” agenda towards migrants (See Liberty’s guide – PDF). As such, it has been opposed by ABC, Privacy International, the Refugee Council, the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, and even the House of Lords. The National Union of Teachers also urged all parents to withhold this data.
The data was initially going to be shared with the Home Office as part of a wider data-sharing scheme, still in operation, that provides for the school records and specifically addresses of undocumented migrant children and families to be provided by the Department for Education to the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.
The Government climb-down is the most recent in a series of hard-fought successes by campaigners, including scrapping of the data collection for 2-5 year olds, a guarantee that the data would not be shared with the Home Office, and the revelation earlier this year that at least 200,000 people had actively boycotted the nationality data collection, with a total of 25% of pupils failing to return any nationality data through the census.
The Government’s Data Protection Bill contains an immigration control exemption that would remove people’s data protection rights when their information is processed for immigration control purposes. During the Committee Stage debate, a Home Office Minister confirmed that the Government plans to use this exemption to allow the Home Office to secretly obtain children’s school records from the Department for Education to facilitate immigration enforcement.
Alan Munroe, a primary school teacher and spokesperson for Against Borders for Children, said:
“This news is a massive victory for a small group of activists with no budget and no staff: just a determination that our schools should be a safe learning environment for every child. ABC was set up just over 18 months ago to end the gathering of nationality and country of birth data on children in English schools as part of the Tory “hostile environment” agenda. That objective has been achieved, and we will be celebrating.
“There is still some unfinished business, though: the data which has already been collected must be deleted, and the DfE must stop sharing children’s addresses with Home Office enforcement teams. ABC members will also keep working with others to fight data-sharing across all of our public services, using what we have learnt here to build a truly welcoming environment for all.”
Gracie Bradley, Advocacy and Policy Officer at Liberty (and member of the ABC campaign), said:
“This is a huge victory for the teachers, parents and campaigners who stood up and refused to comply with this poisonous attempt to build foreign children lists. It gives hope that – if more people stand up and resist – we can succeed in dismantling the Government’s hostile environment policies piece by piece.
“But it doesn’t change the fact that the Department for Education is still sharing the addresses of hundreds of children and families with the Home Office every month – and the Government freely admits that it will use the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Bill to help the Home Office access yet more school records for immigration enforcement.
“Until undocumented people are able to access vital front line services without fear of being shopped to the Home Office, there will still be children in the UK robbed of their right to an education and worse.”
Joy Patel, a spokesperson for Docs Not Cops, said:
“While this is great news, we note that the government bluntly rejected the Health Select Committee’s urgent request that data-sharing between NHS Digital and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes be put to an end. Data sharing and upfront charges in the NHS work together to deter patients, often those who are the most vulnerable in society, from seeking crucial treatment. This includes children who are not exempt from these charges.
“Healthcare workers have a duty of care and confidentiality to their patients, and this is eroded by the government’s attempts to use public sector workers as proxy border guards. We call on the government to scrap its policy of data sharing between the Home Office and all statutory bodies.”