#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!

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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

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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

House of Lords Votes against Government’s foreign children database policy

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“…[T]here is real concern among members of different ethnic groups about victimisation and being targeted. I am afraid that this proposal has all the hallmarks of racism…

 

Children are children, and to use their personal information for immigration enforcement is disingenuous, irresponsible, and not the hallmark of a tolerant, open and caring society”

 

– Lord Storey, Liberal Democrat Peer who moved the motion of regret

Against Borders for Children is pleased to report that on the evening of Monday 31st October, the House of Lords passed a motion of regret against the government’s policy to draw up a foreign children database through the Department for Education.

This is an important step towards a significant victory for children’s rights to privacy, equality, and education. Ever increasingly, the government tries to co-opt ordinary people into the business of border control, whether they’re doctors, employers, or landlords. Last night’s motion sends a clear signal that government efforts to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants are facing a concerted backlash, and that immigration enforcement has no place in our schools.

We now call on the government to respect the vote and abandon the collection of nationality and country of birth data through the School Census. Especially as childminders and nurseries will be expected to collect nationality data from children as young as 2 years old on 19th January 2017 for the Early Years Census and Spring School Census. We will continue to urge parents and carers to refuse to answer these questions. We also ask schools, and professionals working with children not to put these questions to children and parents and instead to use “Not Yet Obtained” or “Not Known” for the relevant censuses.

“Parents are upset, not just about how this information might be used but because these questions are asked at all. They are fundamentally intrusive in the same way that the listing of foreign workers would be.”

 

– The Earl of Clancarty, Crossbencher

The Statutory Instrument enabling this policy was rushed through without scrutiny during the summer recess and the Lords have highlighted flaws with the legislation. Nationality and country of birth information for many pupils has already been collected through the Autumn School Census (PDF). However, some schools asked parents to provide birth certificates, passports, or other identity documentation, even though Department for Education guidance stated that this was not necessary.  Other schools asked only non-white children for the information, which is clearly discriminatory.

Parents are legally entitled to refuse to give nationality or country of birth data, but this right was often not communicated to them, causing significant confusion and distress. Our campaign has received hundreds of flawed forms, complaints and concerns from parents, children and school staff. We also welcome that the National Union of Teachers has released a statement in response to the policy reminding the government that “schools are not part of policing immigration”.

The Department for Education has stated that the new data is being collected to help it assess “the scale and impact of pupil migration on the education sector”, and that it will not be accessible by the Home Office. However, a recent Parliamentary question revealed that existing data on almost 2,500 individuals was requested by the Home Office between July 2015 and September 2016 for the purposes of immigration enforcement. Lord Nash had stated that country of birth and nationality data will not be held on the National Pupil Database due to its sensitivity, but previous DfE assurances on its data security and sharing with the Home Office have been proven to be false.

We and the thousands of parents and teachers who support us will continue to campaign to ensure that school is a safe place for all children, wherever they may come from. We look forward to more parliamentary opposition to the collection of nationality and country of birth information from children. The government must destroy the data it already has, and end data-sharing between the Home Office and Department for Education for immigration enforcement purposes.

 

Migrant youth are asking for your solidarity on Monday

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Last weekend, ABC met with a group of young women and girls from Sin Fronteras – a youth project that is part of the Latin American Womens Rights Service – to talk to them about the campaign, and the upcoming debate in the House of Lords.  The talk came during a workshop in which the group were creating a zine on equal rights in education, including information to raise awareness of the new DfE policy.

Members of the group spoke about their experiences with the new country of birth and nationality data collection, with some being shocked when they discovered they actually had the right to refuse this information.

“I got a letter from school asking for my nationality and country of birth – it didn’t say that we can refuse, we thought it was obligatory”.

All expressed their dismay at the data collection and its link to immigration, particularly given that the Home Office and the police have been granted access to the National Pupil Database (NPD) on numerous occasions over the past 4 years.  They voiced anxiety at what the policy could mean for those whose families are undocumented, and also at how this data collection might link to Brexit, for those with non-British passports.  Even with the assurance that their families would face no sanctions if they refused to provide this data, group members worried that such refusal could in itself mark them out from their British counterparts:

“If we say ‘refused’ on the form, could they not use that to know we are undocumented?”.

This is why we called on British parents and children to also support the boycott –  no group should be singled out by their rejection of this policy, nor should the fight against it fall only on the shoulders of those it most directly affects.

It is difficult to offer sufficient reassurances with such a discriminatory policy causing real fear and anxiety for young people and their families.  The first School census day (6th October) to include this data happened in the same week the Home Secretary announced the policy for companies to report the number of foreign national employees.  While the government have since declared that these lists will not be made public, they will still be constructed, and secretly held by the government for future planning.  

It was also revealed today that in the last 14 months, the Home Office has asked the Department for Education for access to the school records of almost 2500 children, including for immigration enforcement purposes. Such a hostile environment makes it easily apparent that we must do all we can to have this policy repealed.  The group expressed determination to fight for the rejection of this policy, and persuade others around them to do the same.

“Now we are conscious that we, as migrant youth, can refuse to give this information and oppose this legislation that will affect the opportunity we have to educate ourselves freely. As young Latin Americans living in London, we believe that we have the same right to education and that it shouldn’t be a privilege of citizenship or migrant status.”

The group urged everyone to contact members of the House of Lords ahead of the debate on 31 October, writing to a Lord they already know; the Lord Watson, Labour’s Education Spokesperson in the House, or even on Twitter at @LabourLordsUK & @LibDemLords using #EducationNotDeportation and #BoycottSchoolCensus.  

The debate will be a chance for Peers to vote to show that they want the policy to be scrapped. Having them understand the depth of worry over the policy can help to persuade them to make this happen.  So many have expressed their outrage and disbelief at this policy, and by expressing yours, you still have time to make a tangible difference.

ABC Day of Action: Contact your local MP and councillors!

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Today, Thursday 6th October is School Census day in England. Academies and local authority schools will be electronically submitting school census data to the Department of Education. 

Against Borders for Children is calling today a Day of Action to protect immigrant children in England.

For the first time ever, the school census includes immigration data, i.e. country of birth and nationality of pupils in Primary and Secondary Education and young people in sixth forms attached to a secondary school.

Schools are asking parents to send this data in but parents have a right to refuse providing this information. However some schools are not making this right clear to parents.


Against Borders for Children has already taken action by sending a letter to Justine Greening with over 20 other organisations. Now we are asking everyone in the UK but especially in England to contact their political representatives to raise concerns about this new policy and the manner that some of this data has been collected.

Please take 5 minutes today to email and/or call your local councillor, your local MP and even your school board of governors.

If calling your MP, you can use the following text:

I am a constituent of yours and I am concerned about the new nationality and country of birth questions on the Department for Education’s School Census. 

I have heard in the press that schools have been asking parents with foreign sounding names to bring in their passports and non-white British children asked to hand in their birth certificates.

The National Pupil Database will permanently store this information and it will be accessible at an individual level for other government departments including the Home Office that recently announced it wants to publish lists of firms that hire foreign workers. I worry that a future policy will be to make public all the schools with large numbers of foreign pupils. 

I would like you to ask the Schools Minister to withdraw this policy and delete country of birth and nationality data from the National Pupil Database and also remove these questions from the Early Years and Schools Censuses.

Please also email your local MP and copy us in at hello@schoolsabc.net also send us any responses you get!

Get involved and look at our resources page.

VIDEO: “I have the right to go to school and feel safe”

Young people from the Latin American Women’s Rights Service project: “Sin Fronteras” and the advocacy group Jawaab UK have come together to make this powerful video to promote our campaign.

Please share this and remind parents that they have until Wednesday 5th October to opt-out or their children’s immigration data may be obtained and sent to the Department of Education where it will be permanently and irreversibly stored. Parents will not be able to ask for this information to be deleted after this date, so the opt-out is crucial to protect their child’s data.

You can use our letter template to opt-out and email/write to your school TODAY.

Over 20 organisations sign Against Borders for Children letter to Justine Greening

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Today as reported in The Guardian, over 20 leading organisations including Liberty, the Refugee Council, the Institute of Race Relations and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service have written to the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening to oppose the child migrant census policy.  The letter is in support of the Against Borders for Children (ABC) campaign, launched earlier this month to overturn a new policy which seeks to collect immigration data on every child aged between 2 and 19 in England. See our letter here.

The policy has been in effect from the start of term and caused some confusion as some schools have unlawfully asked parents of non-white British children to bring in passports and birth certificates. Like ABC, the organisations who have co-signed the letter are concerned that this data could be used in future by immigration enforcement against individual children and families. The campaign is urging parents to refuse to take part, as they are legally entitled to do, as part of a national boycott.

The Department for Education (DfE) has explicitly linked this policy to immigration in the past, saying it is “to assess and monitor the scale and impact immigration may be having on the schools sector”. In 2013, 

The Home Office and the police already have access to information on the National Pupil Database, but most parents and school staff do not know about plans for this information to be added to the National Pupil Database or that existing data is already being used by third parties.

Gracie Mae Bradley, from Against Borders for Children, said:

“It’s inspiring to see so many of this country’s leading organisations with an interest in migrants’ rights come on board with this campaign. The pressure is now really on the Secretary of State to change her mind and abandon this risky and unnecessary policy.

“School should be a place where all children are treated equally. In the context of a ‘hostile environment’ in which employers, landlords and even healthcare workers are being turned into border guards, we believe this new requirement could be used to add school administrators to the list. We are also deeply concerned that this data will be made available (without time limit) much more widely outside the schools system, which cannot be acceptable.

“Over the coming weeks we expect the organisations opposing this divisive approach to be joined by many more, and for parents and schools to join the boycott and protect young people from this dangerous threat to their privacy.”

Don Flynn of the Migrants’ Rights Network, a signatory to the letter, said:

“This proposal risks all the vital work that teachers have been doing to promote trust between schools and the parents of migrant pupils.  A decade of real advance in the schools which serve migrant communities will be placed in jeopardy if it seems that education is being compromised by an agenda driven by immigration enforcement priorities.

“People in migrant communities across the UK have been thrown into great uncertainty about their future as a result of the Brexit vote and the harsher tone of the public debate.  The DfE should not be adding to this anxiety by introducing a measure which will inevitably increase the sense of being watched and scrutinised by state agencies with a view to future deportations.”

Carolina Gottardo, Director of Latin American Women’s Rights Service, a signatory to the letter, said:

“No child is illegal. There should be a clear dividing line between access to education and immigration control. School’s recent requests for data on nationality and country of origin is already leading to the discrimination of children from ethnic minority and migrant backgrounds. This is unacceptable. Children should not be targeted on the grounds of their race, colour or nationality and teachers should not be placed in a position of “de facto” immigration control officers. The provision of this data is not reasonably justified or required by legislation.”