Victory confirmed for pupil data campaigners!

The UK Government has today issued new guidance for schools in England which confirms that nationality and country of birth data will no longer be sought. This is a major victory for campaigners, led by Against Borders for Children (ABC) alongside a wide range of privacy, human rights and anti-racism campaigners. ABC was set up in September 2016 to fight this policy, and has been running a successful boycott campaign as well as bringing a legal action with the assistance of Liberty. This data on children in English schools has been collected as part of the Prime Minister’s “hostile environment” agenda towards migrants, and was rejected by the House of Lords in November 2016. The National Union of Teachers, as was, also urged all parents to withhold this data.

However, no confirmation has yet been given that Ministers will order the deletion of data already gathered, and address data continues to be shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes. ABC will also work to end the exclusion of children with​ “no recourse to public funds” – a condition often attached to people without indefinite leave to remain – ​from free school meals. Alan Munroe, a primary school teacher and spokesperson for Against Borders for Children, said:

This is a major win for pupils, parents, teachers, and everyone in this country who believes schools should not turned into part of this government’s hostile environment agenda. But there is much more still to be done. We will continue to work with other organisations to ensure the legacy of this unnecessary and divisive policy is ended: that means all data gathered in the past must be deleted, and parents must know that their children will not be harassed at school or used against them.

It also cannot be acceptable for some of the most deprived children in our schools to be unable to access school meals as a result of the “no recourse to public funds” policy. Many organisations are working to see this hateful approach ended too, and we will campaign alongside them so no child goes hungry because of a box ticked on a Home Office database. The future of this country must not be one where people are divided by racism and selfishness.

Gracie Bradley, Advocacy and Policy Officer at Liberty (and member of the ABC campaign), said:

This is a huge victory for parents, teachers, campaigners and generations of children to come. But it is shameful it took a nationwide boycott and legal action for this toxic policy to end – and it is disgraceful they are not deleting the data they did manage to collect.

Every child has a right to an education regardless of their background and the government has no business building lists of foreign children. This u-turn proves that if we resist and challenge xenophobic policies head on, we can and will dismantle the hostile environment.

We won! DfE are ending the nationality school census!

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.”

Child Migrant Census Legal Challenge Hits Fundraising Target

child. holding sign

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.”

Help ABC take the Department of Education to court

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.”

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.”

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

“…[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.

 

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

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.”