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.”

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

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 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.


Introducing: Teaching Resources

Against Borders for Children building block logo

Alongside supporting the boycott of the School Census, we are assisting teachers and educators in counteracting racist and xenophobic discourses in schools more generally.

Here you’ll find a range of lesson packs and toolkits on anti-racism and migration created by our supporters and other organisations.

If you have anything you’d like to share get in touch!

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.”

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


  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

Join us at our first conference – Saturday 14th January 2017

Parents, teachers, everyone: join the Against Borders for Children campaign in the New Year for our first ever public meeting!
*Find out how we’ve managed to make it this far and what we’ve achieved;
*Learn more about the campaign in the context of the ‘hostile environment’ for migrants and disappearing data privacy rights;
*Help us imagine what conversations about race and migration in the classroom might look like in the future; and
*Find out how you can be involved with upcoming actions!

The keynote will be given by Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT.

Other discussions will include Liberty, Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Freedom from Torture, NUS, defenddigitalme, Let Us Learn, Jawaab, Freed Voices and Southall Black Sisters (full list of speakers in the conference pack below).

Date: 14th January 2017
Time: 12.30pm – 5pm
Location: SOAS, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, WC1H 0XG, London

The event is free but due to limited seating capacity, prior registration via the EventBrite page is recommended.

Conference Pack:

Resource Link
Template letter to schools to refuse/retract data Template letter [pdf]
Conference agenda and venue info [pdf]
Conference speaker biographies [pdf]
ABC leaflet Leaflet [pdf]
Campaign Summary Link
Conference FAQs pdf or link

Check the Facebook event page for more info.


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.