The information commissioner has told the Department for Education to strengthen its guidance on collecting pupil nationality data.
Census guidance issued last month includes more bold text drawing schools’ attention to their duty to inform parents of their data protection rights.
It’s important that schools are clearly aware of this right and the requirement for schools to make parents aware of it
Schools must now tell parents that they can refuse to provide information on their child’s nationality or country of birth, and that they can retract data already provided.
Documents seen exclusively by Schools Week show the changes were made after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) advised education officials that these rights should be made “much more prominent” in the guidance so as to comply with information laws.
The government’s decision last year to ask schools to collect data on pupils’ nationality and country of birth prompted a massive backlash both among parents and digital rights groups.
Schools were criticised for demanding pupils’ passports, and the government was forced to back down on plans to share the information with the Home Office for immigration control purposes.
In emails, seen by Schools Week, DfE officials acknowledged that data collection in this vein was “considered by some elements of the public to be contentious”, and asked the ICO for help.
In response, the ICO asked if there were “any other mechanism” by which schools would be informed of their duties other than by the guidance, and if not, said the rules had to be made more prominent.
“It’s important that schools are clearly aware of this right and the requirement for schools to make parents aware of it,” an ICO representative said.