Bringing borders into the classroom – transforming school administrators into immigration border guards

The Department of Education is asking all children, aged 2 to 19, in schools in England to bring their passports and birth certificates to prove their nationality and country of birth.

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From this term schools must record the nationality and country of birth of all pupils for the School Census. This is part of a government effort to investigate “education tourism”, and bolsters a wider campaign to create a hostile environment for undocumented migrants.

However, Against Borders for Children (ABC) argues that we can work together to resist it.

Parents can declare that they want to opt-out and refuse to give this information to schools. If parents have already provided this, they can instruct schools not to send this information to Central government. The collection of nationality data is optional. Schools cannot force parents to identify their nationality or their children’s nationality / immigration status.

The information gathered will be passed on to Immigration Enforcement. A template letter to send to your child’s school or nursery is here: refusal letter.

Background

Schools are legally obliged to collect some types of information about their pupils – such as their date of birth and address – as part of a School Census which takes place three times each year. That information is then fed into the National Pupil Database (NPD), which currently holds the data of over 20 million people.

From this September, this will include the nationality and country of birth of every pupil between the ages of 2 and 19.

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The government’s explanation for the change is that it wants to “assess and monitor the scale and impact immigration may be having on the schools sector”, as well helping to identify children for whom English might be a second language.

But children’s privacy campaigners Defend Digital Me say that there are currently no published plans for how this information would make it possible to target additional support to these kids. Nor has the Department for Education (DfE) explained why the data already held by the Office of National Statistics doesn’t give enough detail to meet the government’s needs.

Harassment

In reality, the Home Office and the police stand to benefit most from these changes. A Freedom of Information request by Defend Digital Me found that since April 2012, the Home Office has made 20 requests for data from the National Pupil Database. Eighteen of these requests were granted, with the remaining two only being denied because the database did not contain the information sought.

In the same period all 31 police requests, were granted.

Immigration raids in London have increased by 80% in the last 5 years, and Theresa May has refused to rule out post-Brexit repatriation of EU migrants.

So, against this backdrop, what’s worrying is the new link between a pupil’s country of birth and their address may be used by the Home Office to assist in harassing and persecuting migrants.

Access

What’s more Defend Digital Me has uncovered that data from the NPD has been repeatedly handed out to newspapers and others. The new information stored in the NPD from September will also no doubt be accessible via Freedom of Information requests. With everyone from Owen Smith to Ofsted inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw decrying the impact of immigration on the education system, racist and xenophobic forces in the media and beyond will undoubtedly use this new data to bolster their attacks on migrants.

Mass refusal

The good news is that there is no legal obligation for parents to supply this new information to schools. However, the legal right of refusal is not being properly communicated to parents. And unless parents refuse on a mass scale, it is unlikely to have any significant impact on the DfE.

Another possible avenue of resistance is provided by the Data Protection Act, which gives individuals the right to ask organisations not to process information they have already given them, because such processing is would be likely to cause ‘damage or distress’. But it is unclear at the moment whether parents will be able to ask this of schools on behalf of their children.

The most effective way of resisting these changes is to put pressure on schools to refuse to collect the data en masse and to target the DfE directly. This is what organisations such as Against Borders for Children and Defend Digital Me are currently trying to do.

Time is of the essence, and without a rapid, mass mobilisation of parents and educators, the government may well succeed in transforming school administrators into border guards.

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