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.

ACTION ALERT: Take 5 minutes to stop the Hostile Environment in your local school

Since our partial victory, the campaign has been working behind the scenes to end the hostile environment in Education.

We’ve written to every Member of Parliament and hundreds of members of the House of Lords to ask them, to take action to protect children from the Hostile Environment.

We have written to the Department for Education stating that they must do three things:
  1. Destroy nationality data collected since 2016
  2. Revoke the regulation that allows it
  3. Stop and prevent any data in children’s school records from being used for immigration enforcement.

They have responded saying that they will not do so, and that they did not give assurances that this data and legislation would not be used for future immigration enforcement purposes. We know that the existing school census data is already being used for immigration enforcement purposes. We want this to end and planning further actions which we will announce before the end of the year.

If you agree with us then please take 5 minutes today to support our three-point plan.
Use or adapt the following tweets and tweet at @educationgovuk, the Secretary of State @DamianHinds or your local MP:

“Hey @DamianHinds and @educationgovuk
Support @schools_abc three actions to protect all children from the hostile environment: #EducationNotDeportation #BoycottSchoolCensus”

“Education is a right for all children. Schools should not be part of the #HostileEnvironment
@DamianHinds please support @schools_abc three actions to protect all children from it: #EducationNotDeportation #BoycottSchoolCensus”

Also please WriteToThem.Com and tell your MP

“We know you’re busy but children can’t wait for their school to be made safe from the Hostile Environment.
In June 2018, the DfE confirmed nationality and country-of-birth data must no longer be collected by schools through the school census but they are not prevented from using gathered data for future immigration enforcement purposes.

In September, under the umbrella campaign of Against Borders for Children, over 25 leading child rights organisations and advocates including Liberty, Privacy International, and Just For Kids Law are challenging the Department for Education’s use of children’s personal information collected in the school census, in immigration enforcement. We need your help. Call for action to restore child rights.

Against Borders for Children (ABC) and DefendDigitalMe have written to you and the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds to ask the Department of Education to complete the work of ending the Hostile Environment to ensure no child fears deportation for exercising their right to an education. Please voice your support in parliament to ask the DfE to do these three actions to safeguard children:

1. Delete all pupil nationality and country of birth data held by DfE before March 2019.
2. Revoke the Education (Pupil Information) (England) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2016 (SI 808/2016) that enabled the collection of pupils’ nationality data.
3. Protect all personal data collected for children’s educational purposes under the Education Act 1996 (s 537a) from Home Office requests in immigration enforcement.


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.

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.


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.”

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


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.”

ABC Fundraising Appeal Letter for groups and union branches

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