ABC Legal Challenge January Update

No Child Is Illegal

Access to free education is a fundamental right to every child in the UK. Against Borders for Children (ABC) believes that all children should feel safe and secure at school, our Education system should ensure that no child is systematically marked as “different” or unwelcome. Our convictions led us to start this campaign and launch a legal challenge against the Department for Education’s (DfE) decision to collect nationality and country of birth data for all children in state funded education in England since 2016.

We have heard the stories of division, ethnic ascribing and passport checks that have taken place since this policy was introduced in September 2016. Parents, schools, unions and many sections of civil society have joined us to urge the government to reconsider. We now know that in January 2017 the Department for Education failed to obtain nationality data for a quarter of all pupils in England – around 2 million children! Through our campaigning we have prevented nationality data from being shared for immigration purposes, but that concession could be changed at any time.  This is why the legal challenge is of strategic importance to the campaign.

On January 2nd, our solicitors at Liberty formally put our High Court case to the Department for Education. We now await DfE’s  response before court hearings start later this year. We will keep you posted on progress and expected key dates.

ABC would not have been able to submit such a strong case without the incredible support we’ve received from communities, associations and individuals across the UK. So once again thanks to everyone who shared and donated our crowdfunder – in impressive timing we hit our target of £12,000 which we believe will cover our legal liabilities for our High Court case this year.

Please remember to keep sharing #BoycottSchoolCensus to inform parents, carers, and guardians that they have the legal right to stop DfE from collecting their child’s nationality status and country of birth. The next census day is Thursday 18th January and more details on how to refuse, retract and resist here.

 

Defend Children: Boycott January 2018 School Census

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Thursday 18th January 2018, is Spring School Census day.

Every primary and secondary school or academy will be updating pupils records noting the country of birth and nationality details of every child that attends their school. This sensitive personal data is being collected on all 5 to 19 year olds and then sent to the Department for Education. Though DfE maintains that this will not be shared with the Home Office, and while we believe that is the case, the original plan was to, and the DfE could decide to do so in the future.

So until this data collection is scrapped, we are urging every parent of any school aged child to boycott this census by sending their school this form with their name, signature and their children’s names.

If any parent/guardian/carer has previously given this information to their school, they can get this data deleted using their right to retract – simply respond “refused” in this census using this form. This Thursday may be the last opportunity to get that data removed, as the Government planned to review this right in December, although no further announcement about this has yet been made.

We believe all children have a right to education and schools should be places of safety which welcome all children. So Against Borders for Children are now taking the Department for Education to court to scrap this policy, we believe our case will continue until the middle of this year. So please continue to #BoycottSchoolCensus refuse, retract and resist this government’s attempt to build a migrant child database.

Download our data removal form

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Child Migrant Census Legal Challenge Hits Fundraising Target

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Today Against Borders for Children (ABC) is celebrating the success of its crowdfunding appeal, which will support a judicial review of UK Government’s policy of requesting country of birth and nationality information on children in English schools. On the 7th of December, less than two weeks ago, ABC launched a public appeal for £3,500 towards the costs of this action, with a stretch target of £12,000. This latter target was reached last night during the last 12 hours of the appeal, which was hosted on CrowdJustice, a public interest crowdfunding platform.

The case against the Secretary of State for Education will be heard at the High Court in London, and ABC will be represented by human rights NGO Liberty and Garden Court Chambers. This policy of data collection, part of the Prime Minister’s “hostile environment” agenda towards migrants, has been opposed by ABC, Privacy International, the Refugee Council, the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and 20 more organisations, and even the House of Lords. The National Union of Teachers also urged all parents to withhold this data.

The collection of this information in respect of every child, critics including ABC have argued, may violate the rights of children and their families to a private life under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. Equally, no evidence has been presented by the government to suggest that the collection of this data fulfills any identifiable educational purpose, given first language data is already separately collected. Information obtained under Freedom of Information legislation in 2016 showed previously collected pupils’ data had been passed to the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes on several occasions. The plan was for nationality data to be also passed to the Home Office until our campaign forced a stop to it.

Wasi Daniju, a spokesperson for ABC, said:

 

“More than five hundred members of the public have chipped in to support this case, and it’s fair to say we’ve been blown away by the scale of the response. It’s an excellent sign that the Prime Minister’s attempts to make this country into a more hostile environment has plenty of opposition out there, and we will now do our best to win this case and overturn this vile and discriminatory policy.

 

“We are also very grateful to Liberty for their support, without which this case would not be proceeding. Even at this late stage I would urge Ministers to do the right thing and abandon this policy. A group of volunteers should not to have to go to these lengths to try and secure children’s basic rights to privacy, to safety, and to an education. It’s time for the Government to accept these arguments now and avoid the expense of what should be an entirely unnecessary hearing.”

 

Lara ten Caten, Lawyer for Liberty, said:

 

“Every child has a right to an education – there is no place for Home Office immigration enforcement in our classrooms and playgrounds. A quarter of teachers and families across the country refused to hand over children’s nationality and country of birth data in the last school census – now hundreds of people have backed this legal challenge. It’s a damning indictment of this toxic policy and a clear message to the Prime Minister that we don’t want our schools turned into places of division and fear.”

ABC Fundraising Appeal Letter for groups and union branches

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To branch members,

I’m writing to your branch as a primary school teacher and a campaigner with Against Borders for Children (Schools ABC) to ask that you help to fund our legal challenge against the Department for Education.

Schools ABC is a group of teachers, parents and civil liberties campaigners who began working together in autumn 2016 following the government’s decision to add country of birth and nationality questions to the termly school census. This data collection demonstrably serves no educational purpose and contributes to a climate of xenophobia and racism in our schools. Successful litigation against the DfE could mean that these divisive and unnecessary bureaucratic requirements are scrapped for good.

Over the course of our campaign we found that:

  • The government had always planned to share collected data with the Home Office.
  • Leaked government letters revealed that the pupil nationality data collection was a compromise reached between the then Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan and Theresa May, who had originally intended that the children of undocumented migrants be ‘deprioritised’ for school places.
  • A secretive data-sharing agreement was made in 2015 between the Home Office and the DfE that allowed information pertaining to 1,500 pupils to be shared with the Home Office every month.
  • Research in schools revealed that the new measures were indeed leading to discriminatory and harmful practices, with some schools asking only non-white pupils for their nationality and others asking pupils to show their passports

With support, we’ve won a number of partial victories, but the legal framework allowing the data collection to occur is still in place. Parents’ right to retract their children’s data is being reviewed in December 2017. We believe the Government plans to scrap the right to retract data. We intend to continue campaigning until the policy is withdrawn altogether, and a legal challenge to the Department for Education has the potential to achieve this.

We hope that your branch will be able to support us in our campaign by pledging funds to our crowdfunder. Alternatively funds could be sent directly to our bank account. (See below)

If you have any questions or would like to meet to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Against Borders for Children

Bank Account Name: Against Borders for Children
Account Number: 42253011
Sort code: 40-07-31

Help ABC take the Department of Education to court

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On Monday 20th November, Universal Children’s Day, Against Borders for Children (ABC) launched a crowdfund to raise a legal challenge against the Department for Education (DfE) on the legality of gathering nationality and country of birth data on children in England.

You can pledge your support for the crowdfunding campaign on Crowd Justice, a public interest crowdfunding platform.

The nationality data, gathered on children as young as six through the School Census since October 2016, is not being collected for any educational purpose. The DfE originally planned to hand over pupils’ nationality data to the Home Office as part of the Prime Minister’s migrant focused “hostile environment” agenda until public outcry led by our campaign prevented it from doing so.

This UK Government policy has been condemned by the House of Lords, and by numerous organisations, including the National Union of Teachers, Privacy International, the Refugee Council, and the human rights organisation Liberty which represents ABC in this legal challenge.

Fran Zanatta, (spokesperson for Against Borders for Children), said:

“If you care about the rights of children to be educated in an environment free of the threat of deportation, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, join us.

 

If you want to push back on the anti-migrant sentiment and policies that have dogged this country for years, please chip in to our crowdfunder. ABC is a grassroots campaign group with less than £1000 and needs your solidarity in bringing this challenge.”

Alan Monroe, teacher and Against Borders for Children campaign member, said:

“All too often people feel powerless when faced with this kind of racist policy-making, and the atmosphere of division and fear it generates, but the truth is we can fight it.

 

Theresa May’s legacy at the Home Office includes making schools ask only those children assumed to be migrants to bring in passports and birth certificates – it’s utterly unacceptable.

 

Sooner or later we need to turn the tide and start to turn a hostile environment for our children into a welcoming one. I would urge everyone who can spare even a little money to support this vital challenge.”

#BoycottSchoolCensus – One Year On: The Fight To Defend Migrant Children Continues

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A year ago today, Statutory Instrument 2016/808 slipped quietly into force. It looks innocuous enough, but it’s the law that allows the Department for Education (DfE) to collect children’s nationality and country of birth through the school census.

When the Against Borders for Children (ABC) campaign launched a couple of weeks later, we knew that the National Pupil Database (NPD) was insecure and opaque. Identifiable information on children aged 5 – 19 is collected by schools and held there forever. Nobody has the right to ask what information the database holds on them, or whether it is accurate. And the DfE hands identifiable data out to third parties including journalists and private companies.

What we also knew in September is that the Home Office and the police had accessed the NPD too.  Against the backdrop of a referendum vote that had thrown the rights of millions of people living here under EU law into jeopardy, and Theresa May’s mission to create a “hostile environment” for migrants, we didn’t trust the government with children’s nationality data. And especially not when as recently as 2015, it had been trying to scaremonger the idea of “education tourism” into being.  What’s more, in 2013 coalition ministers had contemplated a truly diabolical policy: excluding the children of undocumented migrants from school entirely.

The beginnings of #BoycottSchoolCensus

We thought we’d give the government the opportunity to do the right thing first of all. Along with almost 20 other human rights and anti-racism groups including Migrants’ Rights Network, JCWI and Liberty, we wrote to Education Minister Justine Greening and asked her to protect migrant children in schools and scrap the data collection. But of course, that was to assume that the government had a conscience. As expected, it pressed on with its plans, and #BoycottSchoolCensus began in earnest.

With only woefully poor guidance from the DfE to follow, schools made huge mistakes in collecting the data. Some constituted significant breaches of children’s privacy rights, and others were downright racist. National papers reported schools asking only non-white pupils for their nationality. Some schools wrongly asked children to show their passports.

Across the board, schools failed to inform parents that they have a right to refuse to hand over their child’s nationality or country of birth data.  But we knew that if every parent exercised that right to refuse, it would make the dataset unusable to the government, and tell them what all of us already know: migrant children and families are integral parts of our communities, and border controls have no place in our classrooms.

A truly chilling agenda

What we’ve found out over the short lifetime of the campaign is truly chilling. While we were initially concerned that new nationality data would be shared with the Home Office, it turns out that the DfE has actually been operating a secret deportation machine using children’s school records since 2015. The agreement, released through FOI in December, shows that children’s names, addresses and other personal details are harvested from the NPD and routinely handed over to the Home Office by the DfE at a rate of up to 1500 children a month. The agreement doesn’t just target undocumented children, but any child that has an undocumented family member that might be traced through their school records.

What’s more, the FOI release shows that the government had always intended to hand over nationality data to the Home Office once it was collected. It only removed nationality from the data-sharing agreement in response to public pressure.

And December brought us another nasty shock: leaked letters revealed that in 2015, Theresa May had wanted to use the Immigration Bill to require schools to check children’s immigration status, and push the children of undocumented migrants to the back of the queue for school places. She only withdrew these measures when Nicky Morgan, then Education Secretary, agreed to collect nationality and country of birth data as a compromise. The DfE’s protests that nationality data is being collected for the benefit of migrant children turned out to be a barefaced lie.

Big wins, but the battle isn’t over

While exposure of the government’s nefarious agenda has left us with serious concerns about where this country is headed, with the support of parents and teachers, the campaign has won successes that fill us with hope.

We pulled off a successful motion in the House of Lords regretting that children’s nationality data is being collected. “Children are children”, said Lord Storey, “and to use their personal information for immigration enforcement is disingenuous, irresponsible, and not the hallmark of a tolerant, open and caring society”.

Almost every opposition party, the National Union of Teachers (now part of National Education Union), and even the former head of Ofsted have denounced the policy.

We embarrassed the government into keeping nationality data out of the leaky NPD.

We won parents the right to retract nationality data that was collected under false pretences.

We forced a change in the data-sharing agreement between the Home Office and the DfE to ensure that nationality data is not shared for immigration enforcement purposes.

We pressured the DfE into rewriting its guidance to schools for the 2017-18 year, emphasising parents’ rights to refuse and retract nationality data.

And the day after we met with DfE officials in November, they announced a massive climbdown – that ill-judged attempts to collect nationality data from 2-5 year olds would not go ahead.

Why we’re keeping up the fight

The government can’t be honest about how its brutal austerity measures have crippled our public services, so it’s blaming migrants instead. As border controls mushroom, dragging doctors, teachers and social workers into the dirty work of immigration enforcement, campaigns of non-compliance are key to protecting migrants from the racist vilification that they increasingly face.

And schools are a cornerstone of that non-compliance. Even if the government isn’t sharing children’s nationality data now, it could rescind that promise at any moment. It could also use the data as a basis for a future policy that restricts migrant children’s access to school – all the evidence shows that it has been trying to do this for years.  And the agreement to share other parts of children’s school records, including home addresses, continues to deliver immigration enforcement officers to the front doors of unsuspecting children and families.

What you can do

If you’re a parent

  • Respond ‘refused’ to any request for your child’s nationality or country of birth. This is your right and there is no sanction for doing so. You can use our template letter to do this.
  • If you gave data in previous censuses, retract it by answering ‘refused’ to nationality or country of birth in this census. This will overwrite any data you gave in the past.Encourage other parents to do the same whatever their immigration status – the more parents that refuse to give nationality data, the better protected migrant children will be.
  • Contact us to tell us why you oppose this policy, and we will support you to turn your concerns into action.

If you’re a teacher

  • Record ‘not yet obtained’ as the default nationality and country of birth for all children in your class. Let parents know that they can opt in to giving their child’s nationality or country of birth data, but only if they want to.
  • Talk to your headteacher and local union branch about how you can use your collective power to oppose the encroachment of border controls into your school.
  • Contact us to tell us why you oppose this policy, and we will support you to turn your concerns into action.

What everyone can do – donate some time to the campaign

The ABC campaign is run by a handful of people, most of whom do other full-time work, and we need all hands on deck to keep going! Wherever in the country you are based, if you have time or skills that you could put to good use with us, contact outreach@schoolsabc.net and we’d be glad to have you join us.  Having been supported thus far by migrant youth groups Jawaab, Sin Fronteras and Let Us Learn, we’re particularly keen to hear from young migrants on what our priorities should be for the coming year.

We’ll be holding an open meeting on Saturday 16th September, 2pm – 5pm

Room S209, Senate House,
SOAS, University of London
Thornhaugh Street
Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG

and we’d love to see some of you in person there too.

Watch this space, and in the meantime:

Refuse. Retract. Resist.

 

ABC & Liberty email all headteachers about #BoycottSchoolCensus

No Child Is Illegal

Today, Monday 16th January, every headteacher of primary and secondary schools and academies in England will have received an unprecedented e-mail jointly signed by Against Borders for Children (ABC) and human rights organisation Liberty.

We have asked headteachers to ensure all parents are informed of their right to either refuse the new nationality questions in the upcoming Spring School Census this week, on Thursday 19th January or retract data already collected in the Autumn School Census. The new census data was recently described in a House of Lords debate as having “all the hallmarks of racism”.

As campaigners we have also highlighted that the nationality data collection is explicitly linked to Home Office policy to reduce immigration. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) released in December also allows the Department for Education (DfE) to share the personal details of up to 1500 pupils with Home Office every month for immigration enforcement purposes.

This unusual step of human rights organisations contacting every school in England follows the recent revelation that the nationality data questions were added as a watered down compromise in July 2015. Theresa May as the then Home Secretary initially planned for schools to check passports of children before enrolling them and withdrawing offers if parents were found to be living in the UK without the right to remain.

Since this policy has come into force, some schools have asked only non-white pupils to prove their nationality, also others to bring in their passports. Campaigners are hoping that a significant boycott of the nationality questions will bring an end to the policy.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said:
“It shouldn’t have fallen to campaigners to inform schools and parents about their right to refuse to give this information – but the Department for Education wasn’t going to step up.

 

“Parents and guardians deserve to know they do not need to be complicit in this Government’s ‘foreign children list’ experiment, which uses children’s education to enforce border controls. If enough of them take a stand, we can make the playground off-limits to border police, defend every child’s right to education and begin to reunite our communities.”

 

On Saturday 14th January, at the inaugural Against Borders for Children Conference,

Gracie Mae Bradley, ABC Campaign Coordinator said:

“We shouldn’t have to do the government’s job for them, but we hope our joint letter will make it clear to all schools that parents and guardians have the right to refuse handing over their children’s nationality data to the government, and can retract data they have already submitted.

 

In December, ABC published 30 examples of school nationality forms that failed to inform parents that the new nationality questions are optional. The way the census has been conducted so far has produced some discriminatory and outright racist outcomes. As hate crimes soar and the status of EU migrants remains precarious, schools should be a place where all children feel safe.”

Report of the first Kids Against Raids and Borders Meeting

​On Sunday 20th November, about 20 children and adults came together for the first ever Kids Against Raids and Borders meeting. There were wide ranging discussions about the ways that racist violence is carried out through government agencies and individual actions.

Young people talked about their experiences of racism and everyone talked about developing strategies to avoid or stop harm creates by racists.

One 14 year old suggested using Snapchat to share resources about what Immigration Enforcement vans look like and what to do when you see an immigration raid or if a family member is questioned by an immigration officer (don’t talk as you can refuse to answer their questions). The group discussed how to raise awareness among their peers about the school census and what immigration controls actually involve, and ideas included making comics, leaflets and zines.

Young people also broke out into their own space to discuss ideas without adults dominating their conversation. Using memes like the Mannequin Challenge was an idea that KARB will look into producing.

Kojo from Against Borders for Children did a presentation and Q & A on the Government’s Foreign Children Database and the ongoing boycott of nationality questions on the school census. The campaign recently won a concession which now means pre-school children are now exempt from the nationality questions but 5 – 19 year olds will still be targeted in January.

We also watched a video of a Shutdown Yarls Wood demonstration by Sin Fronteras and they talked about how to make links with those in detention.

The next meeting will be set in the New Year. All are welcome to attend so contact us for more information and to keep updated.

Open Letter: #BoycottSchoolCensus continues – time for politicians to act!

Schools ABC logo

When we urged a boycott of nationality and country of birth data collection in schools, we feared the School Census would be used for third party purposes, including immigration enforcement. We didn’t know then that it already was.

It turned out that children’s names, home addresses and school details are handed out regularly to the Home Office, which has requested information on almost 2,500 individuals in the last 15 months.

How can anyone trust the Department for Education’s (DfE) assurances that that these new ‘foreign children lists’ will be used to support children’s education, and will not be given to the Home Office, when the National Pupil Database is already being used to target children?

Growing opposition to the policy now includes politicians across party lines in the House of Commons, following a successful motion of regret in the House of Lords. The National Union of Teachers has also felt compelled to remind the government that “schools are not part of policing immigration”.

In September we wrote to Justine Greening and asked her to scrap this risky and divisive policy. But the DfE plans to press ahead with it in January, when nationality and country of birth data will be collected from every child in state-funded education in England.

All schools and parents can respond ‘not yet obtained’ or ‘refused’ to these questions without fear of sanction.

We urge all politicians to speak up for the rights of migrant children and families, and to say no to foreign children lists.

Signed

Against Borders for Children

BARAC UK

defenddigitalme

Institute of Race Relations

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

Latin American Women’s Rights Service

Liberty

Migrants’ Rights Network

National Union of Students – Black Students’ Campaign

Open Rights Group

Privacy International

Refugee Council

Right to Remain

Southall Black Sisters