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Information about the school census and the national pupil database

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In response to recent media  coverage, please find below some further information which sets out the rationale for collecting new data on nationality, country of birth and English language proficiency through the School Census, and corrects some misconceptions about who does and does not have access to this data.

What is the National Pupil Database?

A database of information we hold on pupils attending schools in England including information we collect in the School Census, and attainment data from awarding organisations. It is the DfE’s primary source of data about pupils in England.

What data is collected in the School Census?

The School Census has been in place since 2006. Data is collected every term via schools and includes information for each pupil such as their name, address, date of birth, gender, ethnicity, whether they have special education needs, whether they are looked after the by local authority (or have ever been), and whether they are eligible for free school meals.

This year we also asked schools for additional information on nationality, country of birth and English language proficiency. This is completely optional and parents are under no obligation to provide it if they don’t want to.

Why collect this information?

Without the evidence and data, we cannot have a clear picture of how the school system is working. It helps us to make sure we are allocating funds where they are needed and that no groups of children are missing out on the education they deserve.

Nationality and country of birth data will, for the first time, help us to understand the impact of migration on schools - for example, what extra support we may need to provide to schools with high numbers of children who don’t speak English as a first language. It will also help us to plan how we ensure there are enough good school places for every child.

Until this Autumn, all the information we asked schools for was, in most cases, already held by the school. The new data on nationality and country of birth would need to be provided to the school by parents, but only if they choose to do so. It is entirely optional.

Who can access the data?

The new data on nationality and country of origin is solely for DfE analysts to use for research. This data has not and will not be shared outside the department.

Under the Education Act, organisations may request access to some of the other data held in the National Pupil Database. This does not include the nationality and country of birth data. To access this other  data, organisations must first show that it will be used to improve pupils' education, through evidence or research. We take privacy extremely seriously and access to sensitive data is strictly controlled. Anyone requesting data from the National Pupil Database must comply with strict confidentiality and security rules, or their request will be rejected.

Is the data shared with the Home Office?

Data on nationality and country of birth have not and will not be shared with the Home Office. It is solely for DfE research.

As has always been the case, however, where the police or Home Office have clear evidence that a child may be at risk or evidence of criminal activity, limited data including a pupil’s address and school details may be requested from the National Pupil Database. It is right that we share this data if it helps to keep a child safe from harm or to disrupt a crime.

How long has data been shared with the Home Office?

An agreement was established in 2015 (before we started collecting the new data) to share some data items with Home Office. Since we started collecting new data on country of origin, language proficiency a‎nd nationality this Autumn, we have updated the agreement to make absolutely clear that this will not be shared with the Home Office.

Do any other Government departments have access to the data?

No other government departments have access to the individual records on nationality, country of birth or English language proficiency. Other information in the database can be accessed by organisations if they meet the strict criteria set out above.

Will the new data ever be published?

Anonymised research and statistics based on the broad trends shown in the new data may be published in some form if it helps us to improve children’s education.  Under no circumstances will any data identifying an individual ever be released.

Can parents opt out of the data collection?

Yes. The census guidance is clear that parents can withhold information on nationality, country of birth and English proficiency if they choose.

Can schools ask for passports or birth certificates?

There is no requirement for the school to request, or see, a copy of the birth certificate or passport for the school census. This is clearly stated in the guidance which was issued to schools in May. We know there has been some confusion and some schools have asked parents for passports or birth certificates. We want to make sure this doesn’t happen again and so we will work with schools and their representatives to come up with clearer guidance.

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