COLLECTING DATA ON EXCLUDED PUPILS – A ROCKY SLOPE?

Ellie Ashwell

The privacy of vulnerable children who leave mainstream education could be put at further risk by a plan to store more of their personal data. Charities, academics and teachers have warned against this new plan, for various reasons.

It’s easy to see the government’s good intentions; by collecting this data, the government and schools will be able to identify why students are excluded from mainstream education, and then use this information in order to better improve the system.

Starting this month, as announced by the Department for Education (DfE), the government plans to collate sensitive data, including collecting pregnancy, health and young offender labels from school children, as well as their names and more detailed information about special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The National Pupil Database (NPD) which holds data for millions of pupils, could not potentially include information of those educated outside of the mainstream school system. It raises concerns that not enough safeguards are in place to ensure that the sensitive data doesn’t end up being passed on to third parties, potentially hindering the privacy of those concerned.

So, in theory, it sounds like a sensible idea. However, there are some considerations which could impact those whose data is being collected.
It’s unlikely that pupils and parents will be asked for consent to collect or store this data, and there is no option to refuse, leaving it to the school’s discretion to even tell children that their data is being stored in this way.

Each pupil’s information will be sent to the DfE on a named basis to add to the growing NPD. The concern here is that the data of these children excluded from mainstream education could end up in the hands of third parties, and consequently compromising the privacy of those involved.

Another concern is that along with their personal data being recorded, those children leaving mainstream education will have the reasons why they’ve left recorded against them, meaning they may end up being labelled for why they have been excluded. There may be sensitive reasons why a child has left school, including physical and mental health issues, and pregnancy which often diverges further from the realm of being a ‘bad’ student.

This action is surprising considering the implementation of GDPR regulations that come into effect in May, with charities highlighting that the new data protection law aims to provide additional protection of pupils’ data. Yet while the government talks about giving children personal data protection and privacy in the design of the regulations, policy to collect excluded pupils’ data isn’t reflecting that.

Exposing pupils’ sensitive data like this goes directly against the GDPR regulations, and although the legislated role of a Data Protection Officer would look after the information of children in that particular school, it’s questionable whether this role would also include children that have been formally excluded from the school.
It’s agreed that it is important to understand why children are excluded, especially as it’s on the increase, but the knowledge gained through this additional data is not worth costing children their confidentiality, with privacy campaigners highlighting the risks holding such data could bring. The government needs to be asking itself whether it’s worth it, and whether alternative, safer methods of data collection can be implemented.

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