ABC takes legal action against Damian Hinds, Education Secretary of State, to end Hostile Environment policies

Today a coalition of teachers, parents and campaigners have taken legal action to force the Government to delete data it holds on schoolchildren’s nationalities and countries of birth – and prevent any pupil information being used to enforce the hostile environment.

Represented by human rights organisation Liberty, Against Borders for Children (ABC) is calling on the Information Commissioner’s Office to order the destruction of nationality and birth country data held by the Department for Education (DfE), and demand an end to all data-sharing between the Department and the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.

ABC contends that holding onto children’s nationality and country of birth data is unnecessary and serves no educational purpose – and sharing any pupil information with the Home Office breaches data protection laws.

The coalition also argues these practices violate children’s fundamental human right to privacy and must be brought to an immediate end.

Under a memorandum of understanding implemented in June 2015 the Department for Education (DfE) agreed to give the personal details of up to 1,500 schoolchildren to the Home Office each month to “create a hostile environment” for migrants.

In April 2018, the DfE announced it was suspending its deal with the Home Office and in June 2018 it said that schools would no longer be required to collect nationality and country of birth data in the school census. But the Department has refused to delete information that has been collected on approximately 8.6 million children since September 2016.

Figures released on 13 December showed that between October 2017 and September 2018, the Home Office requested data on 835 children from the DfE and the Department provided data in 247 cases.

Representing Against Borders for Children, Kwadwo Kyerewaa said:

“BAME and migrant communities have joined with civil society organisations to demand an end to the hostile environment in classrooms in England. We agree with Sir Michael Wilshaw that schools shouldn’t be used for border control. The Department for Education should live up to its purpose and ensure that every child right to education without fear of immigration enforcement.

Recent data sharing statistics show that families are providing data that has been re-purposed for immigration enforcement without their informed consent. We hope the ICO will put an end to this shameful and shocking practice.”

Lara ten Caten, Lawyer for Liberty and ABC’s solicitor, said:

“Amassing this data was never about education – it was a xenophobic attack on children’s rights by a Government obsessed with deportations no matter the human cost. The DfE has agreed to stop collecting this toxic information, there can be no reason for the Department to hold onto it.

“Everyone has a right to an education and no parent should fear sending their child to school. We are hopeful the Information Commissioner will strike a blow to the hostile environment by forcing the deletion of these foreign children lists and that he will ask Parliament to put a stop to any sharing of schoolchildren’s information that serves no educational purpose.”

Nationality and country of birth data

From September 2016, the Department for Education required schools to collect children’s nationality and country of birth data in the termly school census.

The policy was overturned in June 2018 following the start of legal proceedings by Liberty and ABC, and a boycott organised by the coalition group which saw more than 200,000 families in England actively refuse to provide the requested information.

Despite the Government climb-down, the Secretary of State for Education has refused to erase the data which was obtained through the census.

ABC and Liberty have today complained about the retention of data to the ICO, maintaining that keeping hold of it is unnecessary because it serves no educational purpose.

Information is already gathered on the number of students for whom English is not a first language. The country where a child was born or which issues their passport has no additional bearing on their ability to learn – and so the extra data has no value.

As there is no need to keep this information, doing so constitutes an unjustified interference with children’s right to privacy protected by the Human Rights Act and is arguably unlawful.

The organisations have asked the ICO to order the DfE to destroy the data it holds.

Hostile environment data-sharing

Liberty and ABC have also complained about the DfE’s data-sharing practices.

In the letter to the ICO, Liberty asserts it is unlawful for the DfE to provide the Home Secretary with pupil information. Organisations which can receive such information are named within the law. The Home Office is not included.

Sharing information on schoolchildren with the Home Office also breaches data protection rules as parents are not informed it may occur, nor are they made aware their children’s data might be processed for immigration enforcement purposes.

Handing over pupil information to achieve non-educational objectives also constitutes a breach of children’s fundamental right to privacy protected by the Human Rights Act – and so the data-sharing agreement is also arguably unlawful.

DfE fails to give schools updated guidance on Hostile Environment nationality questions

In April, this year it was reported that the Department for Education (DfE) had decided to scrap nationality questions from the school census, completing the key campaign goal for Against Borders for Children. However since then we have been receiving examples (see photo) of children’s nationality and country of birth, which are still being asked for by schools.

So we are asking parents to do three things:

  1. Refuse to answer/leave blank those questions if asked
  2. Encourage other parents/carers particularly with children starting primary or secondary school to do refuse/leave it blank
  3. Please get in touch with us if you know someone who has been asked nationality questions, so that we can build up a better picture about how widespread this practice still is across the country.

These questions have already proven to have produced divisive and racist outcomes which was noted in the House of Lords. When the nationality questions were introduced shortly after the EU referendum, they have contributed to the hostile environment affecting millions of children particularly in diverse communities.

However since our campaign win, it is now clear that schools are still issuing nationality questions as the Department for Education have failed to update their official guidance on the School Census. Even though now it has been over 8 weeks since DfE’s decision to scrap this damaging practice was made public.

As we are aware of particularly primary schools asking incoming reception classes to provide these details, we are asking all parents and carers affected by this to continue to boycott these questions on the school census.

Until all schools are properly informed to scrap this information, this campaign will continue and we will also review the broader hostile environment in schools.

Together we can completely end this attempt to bring the hostile environment into our schools.

Refuse. Retract. Resist.

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High Court Blocks ABC Legal Challenge

The High Court on Friday halted a bid by ABC to bring a judicial review of the UK Government’s decision to obtain nationality and country of birth information on students in English schools. Proceedings were issued against the Secretary of State for Education on Friday 8th December 2017, and ABC as the claimant have been represented by Liberty, the civil liberties and human rights organisation. ABC raised £12,385 from the public to cover legal costs via CrowdJustice, a public interest crowdfunding platform, but the High Court refused to grant ABC permission on two grounds:

1. Out of time

There is a statue of limitations on a judicial review is usually three months since enactment of a new law, however this can be waived when there is a significant public interest. The court chose not to waive this barrier.

2. Alternative remedy

The court agreed with the DfE that ABC could challenge this through the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) rather than through court. ABC’s argument was that this change was brought through an act of parliament and so can only be challenged through a judicial review. ABC will now look at the ICO route.

Our legal challenge will be taken to the Court of Appeal but this may take up to a year before being heard. So our legal route has been paused until we hear back from the Court of Appeal.

Campaigners have argued that the collection of nationality and country of birth data fulfils no identifiable educational purpose, especially given the separate collection of data covering the numbers of pupils for whom English is not their first language. This indiscriminate data gathering exercise violates the rights of children and their families to a private life, ABC and others believe.

Wasi Daniju, a spokesperson for ABC said:

“This is a significant setback for efforts to legally challenge this aspect of the Home Office’s unfair and unjustified ‘hostile environment’ agenda, first established when Theresa May was Home Secretary. We believe there is a strong public interest case and that this point of law should be challenged in court, which why we will take this to the Court of Appeal. Other cases will continue, though, such as the Migrants’ Rights Network challenge to the sharing of patient data between NHS Digital and the Home Office. We will continue to back all efforts like this to overturn cruel and divisive policies of this sort.

“We are also not done with the Department for Education, despite this disappointing news. We will prepare a challenge through the Information Commissioner’s Office. We will continue to work towards our goal to ensure every school puts the education and safety of all children ahead of this perverse ideology.

Every child has has the right to education, free from discrimination and fear.

“ABC would also like to thank the more than 500 people who pledged their money to support this court case. There will be money left over from the £12,385 we raised, once we cover the costs of getting this far. If we are unable to take the legal route further we will donate any surplus funds to Project 17, a charity that works to end destitution among migrant children.”

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

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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New Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions that we have produced for our upcoming conference.

You can download a Word document of this and the rest of the conference pack from the Resources page.

The campaign logo for Against Borders for Children

Frequently Asked Questions

 

  1. What is the School Census?

The School Census takes place every academic term, so three times a year. This academic year the census dates were/are 6 October 2016, 19 January 2017 and 18 May 2017. It is statutory data collection on individual pupils and the schools themselves. It is done for all schools that receive government funding.

 

  1. What sort of information does the School Census collect?

Personal individual information on each child, including name and home address, sensitive confidential personal data like special needs, and reasons for exclusions including drug and alcohol use or sexual misconduct, national curriculum attainment levels, exam grades, and educational progress.

Since 2008, there has been a widening of information requested. Not all of this information has value for children’s education. Our campaign is specifically concerned about the new requirements for nationality/country of birth (COB) data in the 2016/17 census.

 

  1. Why is the Department for Education (DfE) collecting children’s nationality/COB through the School Census?

In 2015 then-Home Secretary Theresa May outlined proposals to be included in the Immigration Bill that would bring schools under the government’s agenda to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants. According to the BBC, those plans included schools withdrawing places offered to children of irregular migrant families and checking immigration status before accepting new pupils. After the then-Education Secretary Nicky Morgan expressed ‘profound concerns’, they reached a compromise, and the DfE agreed instead to collect nationality, COB and and expanded language data through schools “to improve [the DfE’s] understanding of the scale and impact of pupil migration on the education sector.” The new data collection is explicitly linked to the government’s policy to create a hostile environment for migrants, and is part of an attempt to make schools a proxy for immigration enforcement.

 

  1. Are the new nationality/COB questions anything to do with school funding?

The nationality/COB questions have nothing to do with school funding. There are no repercussions for refusing to answer these questions and it is the right of all parents/legal guardians. That there is no sanction for refusing to answer was confirmed in the House of Lords on Wednesday October 12 2016, and by DfE representatives on 16 November 2016.

 

  1. How can schools receive funding for children with additional language needs if they do not have access to nationality/COB data?

English as an additional language (EAL) data is already collected by teachers in the classroom. The new nationality/COB questions are not used to determine EAL or funding needs.

 

  1. Can parents opt out?

Yes. Pages 61 and 66-67 of the DfE’s School Census guidelines explain that schools can record that a child’s immigration data is either “not yet obtained”, “not known”, or has been “refused”.

 

  1. Can I retract data that I have already submitted?

Yes. If you respond ‘refused’ to the nationality/COB questions in the Spring Census which is due January 19 2017, this response will overwrite any previous response that has been given. Even if your school has not previously asked for nationality/COB data we would encourage you to write to retract it in case the school used information it held on file to fill in the October Census without informing you.

 

What difference does it make if I refuse to answer the nationality/COB questions?

The DfE has told us that if there are high rates of refused/not yet obtained responses in the January Census, it will not be able to use the data that it does manage to collect for its intended purpose, and will have grounds to stop collecting the data entirely.

 

  1. Are there any schools that are refusing to submit nationality/COB data to the DfE?

Schools are under a statutory obligation to ask for pupils’ nationality/COB and must submit data that they obtain. However, some schools have recorded ‘not yet obtained’ for all pupils as default in response to the new nationality/COB questions, and have informed parents of their choice to provide nationality/COB data if they wish to do so. Schools still meet their statutory requirements to the DfE by doing this.

 

  1. Do schools need to see ID documents as evidence for the nationality/COB questions?

No. DfE guidance specifically states at pages 66-67 that passports and birth certificates must not be requested. However, many schools have erroneously asked to see ID documents.

  1. Can schools ask children directly for data without consulting their parents?

This is inadvisable even for older children as they may not fully understand the implications of providing it. Although we have received numerous reports of schools asking children for their nationality/COB directly, schools should ask parents/guardians for the data rather than children themselves.

 

  1. Can schools use data that they already hold to answer the new nationality/COB questions without informing parents?

No. If schools plan to use data they already hold for purposes other than those for which it was first collected, they must seek consent from a child’s parent/guardian first.  If you are concerned that your child’s school has used data without informing you, please email hello@schoolsabc.net.

 

  1. Is nationality/COB data available to the Home Office?

Nationality/COB data is not currently available to the Home Office, but would have been had the DfE not changed its data-sharing policy on 7 October 2016after we wrote an open letter expressing precisely that fear. However, nationality/COB data is still being collected as part of the government’s attempt to create a hostile environment for migrants, and future changes in the data-sharing agreement could see nationality data made available to the Home Office once again. It may still be used within the DfE and there is no transparent oversight or any safeguard in place.

 

  1. Is other School Census data used for immigration enforcement purposes?

Yes. The DfE has an agreement with the Home Office, in place since 2015, that it will share the data of up to 1500 children a month, including name, address and school details, for immigration enforcement purposes. This is an agreement to track down migrant children and families using school records that was kept secret from parents, the press and the public until it was released in December 2016 under the Freedom of Information Act.

Campaign Summary

Here’s a campaign summary that we have produced for our upcoming conference.

You can download the pdf of this and the rest of the conference pack from the Resources page.

The campaign logo for Against Borders for Children

Campaign Summary

 

Against Borders for Children started in August 2016 and we are a coalition of parents, teachers, schools, NGOs and campaigners.

Our aim this year is to reverse the Department of Education’s (DfE) policy, effective from September 2016, to collect country of birth and nationality information on 8 million children aged between 2 and 19 in England in order to extend the government’s hostile environment agenda to schools and migrant children.

In September we organised and launched a national boycott of the country of birth and nationality questions, which will continue until the Department of Education reverses this policy. We also called on the DfE to commit to safeguarding children from the stigma of anti-immigrant rhetoric and the violence that accompanies it. In November 2016, we won a concession from the DfE which removed pre-school children (under 5s) from the foreign children database.

The Guardian reports that DfE officials have an agreement, since June 2015, to share the personal data of up to 1,500 schoolchildren a month with the Home Office. In 2015, as Home Secretary, Theresa May wanted schools to check children’s immigration status prior to enrolment, and proposed ‘deprioritising’ the children of irregular migrants for school places. Although that policy was not taken forward, this data-sharing agreement was the compromise she struck with the DfE.

According to the DfE’s own guidelines, providing this data is optional and does not affect school funding. By the DfE’s own admission, if large numbers of parents refuse to answer the new questions in the January and May censuses, the data collected will be useless and they may be forced to scrap the data collection entirely.

This means parents and schools can legally work together to stop this information going to DfE and the Home Office. If a significant minority continue the boycott then this policy will fall. #BoycottSchoolCensus

Home Office Using School Records to Target 1500 Children Each Month

A picture of a sign at the Home Office

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that the DfE have an agreement to share the personal details of up to 1500 schoolchildren a month with the Home Office to “create a hostile environment” in schools for migrants. As The Guardian reports, the agreement is detailed in a memorandum of understanding between the Department for Education (DfE) and the Home Office, in place since June 2015. The DfE also confirmed to SchoolsWeek that it had agreed to share children’s nationality data with the Home Office until a u-turn was made in October.

Campaign coordinator, Gracie Mae Bradley said: ‘This newly released MoU makes clear in chilling detail that the DfE still plans to collaborate with the Home Office to share the personal details on over 1000 children every single month, including name, address, and school details. Using school records to track down and deport migrant children and families is totally indefensible. Schools should be a place where all children feel safe.”

If your school asks for your child’s nationality and country of birth, please use your legal right to decline answering those questions. Or, if they have already got those details, you can tell the school to delete this information using our template letters.

If your school hasn’t asked you then they have either presumed your child’s nationality or are yet to ask. Don’t wait, use our template letters to #BoycottSchoolCensus today.

Join our conference on Saturday 14th of January to learn more about our campaign and find out how you can get involved.

Everyday Borders: An Exhibition – 6th – 10th December 2016

Crossing borders at a young age is never easy. Borders manifest themselves not only as physical entities, but in cultural, economic and psychological terms as well. The young women of Sin Fronteras – a youth project that is part of the Latin American Womens Rights Service – present an exhibition of photographs, films and zines that reflect upon their identities, experiences and perspectives as migrants in the UK.
This exhibition will run from December 6th – 10th 2016 at the Marnier Gallery in London, opening with a private view on the 6th December between 6 and 8.30pm. There will be guided tours of the exhibition – led by the young artist – running Saturday 10th December between 11am – 2pm (one beginning every hour).

Address:
Menier Gallery
Southwark Street
London
SE1 1RU

Opening Hours
Private View (6th December): 6pm – 8.30pm
7th – 10th December: 11am – 6pm