The government is to start collecting data on how many children from immigrant families are being taught in England’s schools.

The Department for Education (DfE) has changed the information that will be collected from schools this autumn to include details about pupils’ nationality and country of birth.

The change in the census records will expand the current collection, which just records pupils’ ethnicity – i.e. black, white British, Asian, etc.

Last year, Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, announced she had ordered officials to investigate whether immigration levels are linked to “education tourism”.

Schools Week was refused a Freedom of Information request asking for further detail about the inquiry and its scope at the time.

It is understood the information will not be used as part of its investigation into the “impact of mass migration” on schools.

Louise Casey, who has been commissioned to undertake an overarching review into “opportunity and integration” of minority communities by the government, has been asked to look at education as part of this remit.

Schools Week understands schools have already started to contact parents to ask them to provide information about nationality and country of birth ahead of the census in October.

Jen Persson, from DefendDigitalMe, a campaign group calling for more transparency with pupil data, said it was important the DfE made it clear who would be able to access the data, its purposes and any right for parents to refuse to provide the information.

She said it was unclear why the data was needed as similar information is collected by the Office for National Statistics.

According to the census guide, parents do not have to provide the information if they choose not to and schools can record the information as “refused”, “not known” or “not yet obtained”.

Persson said: “This is very important for schools to pay attention to. It is the first time pupils and parents are being given the right to opt out of any census data collection, using the term from the DfE guide, “refused”.

“Schools need to communicate this opt out choice very clearly in their new privacy notices to collect and process these data fairly. It could be very confusing for parents why some data is compulsory and not others?”

The census takes place three times a year – once every term. Next year, the census will be carried out on October 6, January 19, 2017, and May 18, 2017.

When the DfE applied to make the change it said it “may” be used to facilitate the “targeting of support to such pupils” and will “assist in the identification of such pupils”.

Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said schools would welcome more support for children who had additional learning needs.

He said: “We know that school budgets are already at breaking point because the government is not planning to raise the amount of money offered per pupil even though costs are rising every year.

“When schools and parents provide this additional information they will rightly expect that additional funding is provided in return, otherwise that government promise of extra support will never materialise.”

The information about pupils’ nationality will come in addition to a new measure also being introduced this autumn, which will ask schools to assess how good at English are those pupils classed as “having English as an additional language”, on a five-point scale.

Speaking earlier this month, Sameena Choudry of Equitable Education, said she was worried about the lack of training and support for schools ahead of this change, and warned the data collection could be “messy and inaccurate”.

A DfE spokesperson said:  “The department will collect data on pupils’ country of birth, nationality and level of English proficiency through the school census in line with the national population census.

“The information will be used to help the DfE better understand how children with, for example, English as an additional language, perform in terms of broader learning.”