Nationality data was ‘compromise’ on Theresa May’s school immigration check plan

Controversial new government rules ordering schools to collect nationality data of pupils were introduced as a compromise to curb stricter plans for teachers to carry out immigration checks and deprioritise immigrant pupils.

Leaked cabinet letters obtained by the BBC, published today, show Theresa May, while home secretary, wrote to the Department for Education last year outlining proposals for how schools could help reduce immigration.

Plans included schools withdrawing places offered to children of families found to be living in the country illegally, according to the BBC, with May also wanting schools to check passports before accepting new pupils.

But the plans were rejected by then education secretary Nicky Morgan – who wrote to prime minister David Cameron stating herfo “profound concern”.

Instead a compromise was agreed to place a legal duty on schools to collect the nationality and place of birth data of pupils – exclusively revealed by Schools Week earlier this year.

But the letters will further fuel the concern of critics that the plans were a backdoor route for schools to police immigration.

The DfE has always maintained the plans were to help target tailored support to such pupils, and has consistently said details will not be passed to the Home Office.

But the compromise also explains why the official guidance seemed to be vague around what schools actually needed to collect.

Read more: What schools need to know about collecting census nationality data
Read more: What schools need to know about collecting census nationality data

Schools Week has previously revealed how the confusion led to schools wrongly demanding copies of pupils’ passports and asking parent to confirm if their children are asylum seekers.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner told the Today programme that the letters were “deeply concerning”. “Denying innocent children, because of the circumstance of their parents, a right to good education is disgusting and not a British value.”

She accused May of trying to offload the immigration failures of her former department onto schools by making teachers become a form of border control – something which she said was not practical.

Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw also criticised the plans saying that “schools shouldn’t be used for border control”.

Schools shouldn’t be used for border control

Publication of the letters are now set to spread further concern about the census collection, with critics concerned the plans could be revisited now May has become Prime Minister.

The leaked letters show Morgan was vocal in opposing the plans. In a letter to Cameron she said the plans could destabilise the admissions process and jeopardise the “increasingly important focus on tackling both segregation and extremism”, according to the BBC.

“Introducing these checks could lead to some children not being registered for school because of real or perceived fear of deportation.

“Leaving aside the fact that these young people will not receive a decent education, this is a safeguarding risk – we have real concerns that children out of school may be at greater risk of radicalisation or other harms.”

A government spokesperson told the BBC it is “only right the government looks at a range of options when considering policy options, but ultimately it is for ministers to decide which policies are taken forward”.

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