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Pupils who were not white British told to send in birthplace data

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Schools are demanding copies of pupils’ passports, and asking parents to confirm if their children are asylum seekers or refugees amid confusion over a new legal duty requiring the collection of nationality data.

Schools Week revealed in June that the Department for Education (DfE) had expanded the census details schools must collect from this month to include pupils’ nationalities and countries of birth.

The government insisted the change was driven by a “dearth of information” about how effective the education sector was for foreign nationals. Its guidance states that schools should seek birthplace data from parents, although it is not compulsory for parents to provide it.

However, an investigation by Schools Week suggests that schools have misinterpreted the new rules, including asking for pupils’ passport numbers and for parents to confirm their child is not an asylum seeker.

It comes during a time of heightened deportation concerns in some communities. Earlier this month protesters demonstrated outside the Jamaican high commission after more than 50 people – many who had lived in the UK all their lives – were deported.

The confusion could increase fears among ethnic minority families about how the data might be used, although education leaders say they have received assurances it will not be passed to the Home Office.

Diane Leedham (pictured), a specialist English as an additional language (EAL) teacher, said she was worried about the “range of interpretation” schools were placing on the government’s “contentious but clear” instructions. Schools should “make it clear that parents can opt-out if they wish.

“They can’t opt out of asking the question; they have to put the form out with the right questions, but they are not entitled to ask for passport numbers.”

Schools Week found De Beauvoir primary school, in Hackney, east London, has issued a form to parents that appears to require staff to check details provided against passports and birth certificates, and asks guardians to specify whether or not their child is a refugee or asylum seeker.

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At Garth Hill college in Bracknell, Berkshire, parents received different emails depending on their child’s recorded ethnicity. Those with children recorded as being white British were told the school was assuming they were British and born in the UK, and they should only respond if that assumption was incorrect, while those with a different recorded ethnicity were told to send in birthplace data as a matter of urgency.

St Richard’s Church of England first school in Evesham, Worcestershire, also wrote to parents this week requesting pupils’ passport numbers.

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools should “sensitively” ask parents for the information and explain why it was being collected, but should not request documents. Schools that had done so should “simply make a very brief apology” and explain they had misunderstood the guidance.

“There are some very legitimate reasons behind the collection of this data,” said Trobe, who claimed it would help schools and the government understand the impact of language GCSEs on foreign nationals.

“We have been completely assured that none of this is being passed to the Home Office.”

The Department for Education has now reconfirmed its guidance. A spokesperson said: “The guidance is clear – there is no requirement for schools to request a child’s passport or birth certificate”. He insisted the nationality and country of birth data “should be as stated by the parent or guardian”.



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11 Comments

  1. Stuart Lock

    So my first reaction is “of course this is wrong”.
    And then I consider that this week I had to show my three year old’s birth certificate at the nursery run as a charity. Otherwise the nursery, of which my partner is a trustee or equivalent (though I presume doing this predates her joining their board), can’t claim the 15 hours that is funded by the government. I suppose we could bash the nursery for this, but I don’t think it’s their fault. It’s the most expedient way of finding out if they’re entitled to funding. I’m not sure what else I’d suggest.

    Then I consider that when I worked in schools in London, we’d have very regular examples of pupils, often from war-torn countries – entering school clearly significantly above age 11. In many cases these were very significant safeguarding risks to other pupils. In some it was more marginal. A pupil might look 13, but that might mean they are 15. Or maybe they are 11. In one school we had over 20 pupils with birthdates of 1st January, when a normal sample would have had 2 or 3.

    I think we regularly asked for birth certificates or passports to verify age. We had a duty of care to do so. I suppose one could bash schools for this, or hint that they are racist based on one or two anecdotes. Or one could consider what they could reasonably do to protect the safety of the hundreds of kids there, and be measured about it.

    Meanwhile one school I was in diverted most of its pupil premium money to asylum seekers or refugees who are not pupil premium because they have no recourse to public funds. I guess not identifying them would mean they don’t do this, and maybe PP money would be targeted at the better off PP kids. But I think this school was right to ask, for its own reasons. I hope it still does. If this is wrong, it would take some article to unpick what the school might do instead.

    But that might not be good for Search Engine Optimisation.

    • Please be aware that many countries in which home births are common with limited access to hospitals, the standard procedure nationally is to record the birth date as Jan 1st, regardless of the actual date of birth. This is true of many African countries and doesn’t mean it’s fraudulent information, just the standard for the children’s country of origin.

  2. Before a child enters school, they should be forced to prove entitlement. They must provide evidence they have a right of abode. This should be the case for all public funded services.

    Each school is paid for each child from national taxation. The Government has every right to ensure correct entitlement.

    • James Robertson

      And what if the child is an immigrant but their parents pay tax, should they be excluded? Do we really want a sub-culture of uneducated people here who will listed without critique of any religious nutcase that takes them in.

  3. Interesting that Independent schools are not necessarily required to collect and submit this data. Yet many independent schools actively recruit students overseas. Independent school argue that for example 10-15% overseas student intake, enhances the educational experience for British pupils in independent schools as well as their coffers. These schools argue that global exposure through diverse student intake is a good thing. So on this basis, should the same
    advantages also not be deemed possible within the state education system?

    I do wonder what sort of climate is being created in our schools whereby only students of colour are being asked to submit their passport details.

  4. The issue that concerns me about this is that different emails/letters were sent out to parents based on their children’s ethnicity. I can understand that there are legitimate reasons for what they are requesting, but sending different emails/letters based on the colour of a child’s skin and/or their geographic heritage opens a can of worms.

  5. I’m sure when we started school our parents were required to send a copy of our birth certificates to school and we thought nothing of it. I realize in today’s world things are different but I don’t see the wrong in asking to see these.