Government halts data-sharing on pupils

The government has stopped sharing pupil data with third parties while it reviews its approval process.

The national pupil database holds information on more than 21 million children collected via the school census since 1998. Researchers, academics, businesses and others were previously allowed to request information from the database to inform research and other activities.

But the BBC reports today that access to data by third parties was halted earlier this month.

On its website, the Department for Education said it is “temporarily pausing applications for data extracts and will not process new applications” from May 1.

“We are making changes to the approval process and will provide further information in June.”

The move comes less than two weeks before strict new data privacy laws come into effect. The general data protection regulation, or GDPR, requires all organisations to be clearer about the data they hold.

A spokesperson for the DfE said the department “takes the use of personal information and the implications of the GDPR very seriously” and had paused the applications “ahead of the implementation of the GDPR”.

Different organisations can request different extracts of data, depending on the purpose of their request, but parents and children themselves do not have access to the data.

The DfE’s data-sharing activities came under fire in 2016 when it forced schools to begin collecting data on pupils’ nationality and country of birth. The requirement was quietly introduced in September 2016 as a new law was rushed through Parliament during summer recess.

The government insisted the information would not be passed to the Home Office for immigration control purposes, and claimed it was needed to help schools to cope better with pupils with first languages other than English.

But in December 2016, following a months-long Freedom of Information battle, the Department for Education was forced to admit to Schools Week that it had intended to share the information all along, but had backed down following a backlash from parents and schools.

Last month Schools Week revealed schools would no longer be forced to collect the data after a series of scandals including some schools demanding to see pupils’ passports and targeting non-white pupils, and after campaign groups launched legal action.