Government reviews pupil nationality check guidance after schools’ passport demands

The government has beefed up official guidance for the controversial pupil nationality data collection duty after schools wrongly demanded copies of non-white pupils’ passports.

The move is said to be part of a transparency pledge by the Department for Education (DfE) to ensure schools and parents fully understand the new duty.

Schools have had to record pupils’ nationalities and countries of birth as part of their census collections since last October.

Explainer: What schools need to know about collecting census nationality data

But an investigation by Schools Week found that some schools were demanding copies of pupils’ passports, and asking parents to confirm if their children are asylum seekers or refugees – highlighting concerns about vague government guidance around the duty.

The department launched a review after the practice emerged, Schools Week has now learnt, before amending its guidance to state more clearly what schools should be doing last month. (It can be viewed here).

The updated guidance explains parents can refuse to provide nationality data for their children – something critics said was not properly communicated last year to either schools or parents.

Schools can also record that refusal in their census submission, the updated guidance states.

Department officials will also “enhance transparency” by collating the use of pupil data by other government departments.

In addition, they will investigate alongside local authorities to see if any “reasonable efforts” can be made to “ensure that appropriate data collection procedures are followed”.

Ed Humpherson, general director of regulation at the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), said the “further improvements” are welcome.

He suggested the department writes to headteachers before the next autumn school census to “help them inform parents … of their rights in regard to this collection”.

Humpherson was responding in a letter to concerns raised by Jen Persson, from the Defend Digital Me campaign group.

There should be no surprises for pupils and parents

Persson told Schools Week that any improvements needed to make data safer and more transparent “so that there’s no surprises for pupils and parents how our data are being used”.

While schools have a duty to request the nationality information, there is no requirement for them to request a child’s passport or birth certificate.

Instead, schools should include the information as “stated by the parent or guardian”.

Parents can also refuse to provide the information and schools can record that refusal in their census submission – something critics have said has not been properly communicated by the government.

The DfE originally said collecting the data was for analysis purposes.

But it was later revealed the duty had been imposed as a compromise won by former education secretary Nicky Morgan to curb stricter proposals from Home Office, then led by Theresa May.

The now prime minister wanted schools to carry out immigration checks and deprioritise places for immigrant pupils.

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