Campaigners seeking to halt schools from collecting data on pupil nationality and country of birth will today request permission for a judicial review of the policy in the High Court.
The campaign group Against Borders for Children, represented by the human rights charity Liberty, will focus its legal argument on whether the policy infringes the rights of pupils. The groups also argue the policy serves no “educational purpose”.
Schools have had a legal duty to collect information on pupils’ nationality and country of birth in the school census since last September.
The controversial change to the school census, which was rushed through Parliament during the summer recess in 2016, sparked a huge backlash from parents after some schools overreacted to their new duty, demanding copies of pupils’ birth certificates and passports.
In one instance, only non-white pupils were chased for their data, and in other cases, parents were told they had a legal duty to provide the information, when no such requirement exists. Vague government guidance, which was recently criticised by the Information Commissioner’s Office, has been blamed.
The DfE initially claimed it had no intention of sharing the data with the Home Office for immigration control purposes. But last December, following a lengthy Freedom of Information battle, it was forced to admit to Schools Week that it had indeed intended to release the data, and had backed down following the backlash.
Against Borders for Children launched a crowdfunding campaign last month, and has so far raised £4,000, enough to begin its legal bid. It will now make its official submission to the High Court, requesting permission to challenge the policy.
“For more than a year we have pointed out that this policy has nothing to do with education and everything to do with creating a hostile environment for migrants and their children,” said Wasi Danju, a spokesperson for the campaign group.
“We tried to persuade the government to do the right thing, but they have refused to listen to concerns from parents, teachers and young people. We do not believe there is an acceptable basis for it in law, and the courts will now have to rule on that issue.”
Lara ten Caten, Liberty’s lawyer, said the collection was “toxic” and turned “sanctuaries of learning and development into places of fear”.
“The government cannot even explain why it needs to know children’s nationality and country of birth in order to educate them,” she said.