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DfE faces legal action over collection of data of children in ‘alternative provision’

The Department for Education is facing a legal challenge over its decision to instruct local authorities to provide data on children who have been moved out of the mainstream school system.

The DfE’s ‘Alternative Provision Census’ began on 18 January and is due to complete on 2 March 2018. It is reported to require local authorities to provide one of eight reasons why pupils have been placed into ‘alternative provision’ for education.

According to campaign group, ‘defenddigitalme’, which is bring the legal action, this could include childhood pregnancy, offender history, mental health, and other highly sensitive information.

The group said that in 2017 more than 22,000 children were in an alternative provision setting.

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Defenddigitalme said the new data sets must be provided in named format, by local authorities and are stored and distributed indefinitely at the DfE which the group argues could lead to children being labelled for life by the authorities and a wide range of third parties.

It claimed that pupil information had been provided by the DfE since 2012 to commercial companies, charities, think tanks, newspaper and TV journalists. The group said it believed that contrary to the law, pupil’s names have been included in the data shared.

Jen Persson, the Director of defenddigitalme, said: “Whilst we appreciate and support the important need to understand the reasons behind transfers of pupils out of mainstream education, in particular concerns about children being ‘managed out’ from mainstream school to boost league table results, these are not anonymous statistics, but children’s named permanent records.

“The information being provided by schools and local authorities on each child will include their full name and address, date of birth, special educational needs, results across the educational lifetime from age 2-19 and much more potentially stigmatising data, such as reasons for exclusion, including violence, theft, and sexual misconduct.

“There is very little understanding amongst parents across the UK that this sensitive information is now being ascribed as there has been no national communication of the scope of the census and the way in which this new data will be stored and potentially used by the Government or third parties.”

The group has instructed Leigh Day on the claim and has set up a crowdfunding page.

Merry Varney from the Human Rights team at the law firm said: “We share our client’s grave concerns over the lawfulness of the data collection for the Alternative Provision Census. The data to be collected, which now covers new information, is personal and highly sensitive, and our client has gathered very strong evidence that children and parents are not aware of the expanded data being provided to the Department of Education or how it can then be used.

“Children and their parents have the right to understand how such personal information about them will be processed and to have confidence that the prohibition on publishing their names is being respected.”

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