Tag Archives: free school meal

Do parents even know their children’s school data has been given away?

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Fellow blogger and Vox Political reader Owen Boswarva has delivered frightening proof of the way parents have been sidelined by Michael Gove’s Department for Education, in order to give away – not even sell – confidential information about our children to private companies.

Mr Boswarva said he had written a blog post about the issue last year, in which he stated his concern about “the low profile of DfE’s NPD initiative. Most of the consultation responses are from organisations with an interest in re-using the data, leavened by some cautionary advice from civil society groups. There are only a couple of responses from schools and a half-dozen or so responses from individual parents (consistently opposed to the proposals).” [Emphasis mine]

“There appears to have been no concerted effort to bring the consultation or the NPD initiative to the attention of parents or pupils (i.e. the data subjects themselves). This is a quote from one of the parents who did respond: ‘I am shocked and appalled that I wasn’t notified about this consultation through my child’s school — I read about it on Twitter of all things. A letter should have gone to every single parent explaining the proposals and how to respond to this consultation.’

“(Now imagine that sentiment amplified via Mumsnet …)”

His full article is available here and makes absorbing reading as it features all of the responses to what the DfE (laughably) called its “consultation”.

In his comment to VP, Mr Boswarva wrote: “Some civil liberties organisations (including Big Brother Watch) did respond to the DfE consultation… The implemented access regime is not quite as bad as the original proposals, but I agree we should be concerned.

“For me the main issue is that parents (and pupils themselves, who are the actual data subjects) are unaware of how the personal data is being shared with third-party organisations.

“There was no press release or any other broad communication to the public when access to NPD data was expanded. (It’s worth noting that most of the broadsheets [newspapers] have been given access to Tier 2 pupil data themselves, so they are probably not keen to rock the boat.)

“If you want to get into the detail of what DfE is up to with the NPD, try this Deloitte report: National Pupil Database: Exploiting the benefits of releasing the data.”

I have yet to do so (time being against me) but I invite any readers with an interest to download the report, go through it, and report your findings.

I’m off to find a contact address for Mumsnet.

Addendum: I’ve amended this article after Mr Boswarva contacted me to point out that the DfE isn’t, in fact, selling pupil information – the department is giving it away for free. In my opinion this makes its actions even worse. What do you think? (Thanks are due to Mr Boswarva, whose full communication should appear in the comment column below.)

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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School pupils’ details are being given away by the government

Selling their future: Michael Gove's Department for Education has put pupils' confidential information up for sale.

Selling their future: Michael Gove’s Department for Education has put pupils’ confidential information up for sale.

Thanks are due to the Vox Political reader who flagged up the fact that, while plans to sell British citizens’ health records and tax details are currently delayed or in consideration, confidential information about our children is already being passed on to private companies.

Researchers and third-party organisations can apply for detailed information from the national pupil database (NPD), covering pupils at schools and colleges in England.

This includes test and exam results, details of prior attainment and progression at different key stages for pupils in the state sector, attainment data for students in non-maintained special schools, sixth-form and further education colleges, and information on pupils in independent schools, where available.

The database also includes information about pupils’ characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, first language, eligibility for free school meals, special educational needs (SEN), and pupil absence and exclusions.

Why would anyone want to use such information commercially?

Extracts of this data are available for use by any organisation or person who, “for the purpose of promoting the education or well-being of children in England”, are conducting research or analysis, producing statistics, or providing information, advice or guidance. To whom?

The available data is arranged into ‘tiers’, as follows:

  • Tier 1 – the most sensitive personal information
  • Tier 2 – other sensitive personal information, including less sensitive versions of tier 1 data
  • Tier 3 – school-level data
  • Tier 4 – other pupil-level data, for example, attainment, absence and exclusions

Users can even request bespoke extracts, with a member of the NPD Data Request team on hand to advise on the approvals process, and whether the information requested is available.

The NPD is also linked to the further and higher education sectors, using data from the individualised learner record (ILR) and Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) student record.

Users can request linked information in the following combinations:

  • NPD linked to ILR data
  • NPD linked to HESA student record
  • NPD linked to both ILR and HESA
  • Individualised learner record linked to HESA student record

You will not be consulted on whether you wish to allow your child’s information to be given away.

This means a huge amount of information about your children is now available to third parties and – considering the government guidance note from which this information is drawn is almost a month old – may already have been handed over.

Confidential information on – for example – exam and test results, special educational needs, absence and exclusions, and eligibility for free school meals could have a serious impact on a pupil’s prospects in adult life, if used to inform organisations that are hiring school leavers, for example.

There are safeguards. Organisations requesting information need to demonstrate that they comply with all relevant requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998, including proving that they are registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office to process personal data or fall within an exemption, have appropriate security arrangements in place to process the data, intend to use the data only for a specified purpose, will keep the data only for a specified length of time, and will not share the data without our prior written approval.

Considering this government’s track record, how safe does that make you feel?

If you want to read the guidance note yourself, it may be found here.

Addendum: I’ve amended this article after Owen Boswarva contacted me to point out that the DfE isn’t, in fact, selling pupil information – the department is giving it away for free. In my opinion this makes its actions even worse. What do you think?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Prepare to sift the substance from the sewage in the Chance(llo)r’s Autumn Statement

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[Picture: Vox Political reader Al Reading]

How long has it been since Labour was deemed the party with no policies and no direction? Now it seems the Conservatives have taken up this undesirable label and applied it to themselves (excuse the choice of words) liberally.

Labour’s stand on energy prices sent the Tories scurrying away to find an answer, after they finally realised that baldly claiming nothing could be done was not going to cut any ice.

When they finally came up with something, their answer was to “Cut the green crap” and reduce the environmental levy on energy firms – a u-turn within a u-turn for the party that once proclaimed to the nation, “Vote Blue – Go Green”.

This week they have also u-turned on cigarette packaging – for a second time within a matter of months. Before the summer, the Conservative vision was to safeguard children from smoking by removing packaging for cigarette packets. Then – after coincidentally hiring fag-company lobbyist Lynton Crosby to run their campaigns for them – they decided that the packaging could stay. Now – in the face of a possibly Lords rebellion – they are reversing their position yet again.

This is the context in which Boy Chancellor George Osborne will make his Autumn Statement – and he has already put himself on a sticky wicket before going in to bat.

Remember David Cameron’s massive error of judgement at the Lord Mayor’s banquet a few weeks ago, when he stood behind a gold-plated lectern that could easily be sold off or melted down to help pay of the interest on his government’s ever-increasing borrowing burden, and said austerity was here to stay?

It seems Gideon was eager to follow in his master’s footsteps, stumping up £10.2 MILLION (including VAT at the 20 per cent level that he imposed on us all in 2010) on new furnishings for his Whitehall HQ, from exclusive designers Panik, Ferrious and Senator. One Treasury insider, according to the Daily Mirror, wondered “why we couldn’t have just bought new furniture from Ikea”.

Good question! It is also one that is especially pertinent after it was revealed that Osborne has been calling for last-minute spending cuts from the Home Office and the departments of Justice, Defence, Business and Work and Pensions (yet again), because he will not be able to fund the £2 billion of giveaways announced during the conference season without them.

These include scrapping a rise in petrol duty of almost 2p per litre, free school meals for pupils aged five-to-seven and rewarding marriage in the tax system.

It seems clear that these measures were all unfunded when they were announced, putting the lie to Conservative claims that they have any kind of plan – and ruining their claim that Osborne’s schoolboy-economist austerity idiocy has done anything to improve the UK economy.

Like him or loathe him, Will Hutton in The Guardian had it right when he wrote: “The recovery is the result of the upward swing of the economic cycle finally asserting itself, aided by policies informed by the opposite of what Osborne purports to believe.”

Hutton went on to state that Osborne decided to “borrow from the Keynesian economic locker… never admitting the scale of the philosophic shift, and then claimed victory”. In other words, Osborne is the biggest hypocrite in Westminster (and that’s a huge achievement, considering the state of them all)!

Result: “The public is misinformed – told that austerity worked and, as importantly, the philosophy behind it works too… Thus the Conservative party can be protected from the awful truth that Thatcherism fails.”

Labour MP Michael Meacher is much more scathing (if such a thing is possible). In a Parliamentary debate, quoted in his blog, he told us: “We do have a recovery of sorts, but one that has been generated in exactly the wrong way. It has been generated by consumer borrowing and an incipient bubble, and it is not — I repeat, not — a real, sustainable recovery.”

In other words, the – as Hutton describes it – “eclectic and spatchcocked Keynesianism” employed by Osborne, while superficially useful in the short-term, will cause immense damage over a longer period because he doesn’t understand it and only used it in desperation.

Both Hutton and Meacher agree that a sustainable recovery can only come from what Meacher describes as “rising investment, increasing productivity, growing wages and healthy exports”, none of which are supported by Osborne’s current behaviour.

And yet, according to the Daily Telegraph, Osborne will fulfil another of this blog’s long-standing prophecies on Thursday by telling us all that “Britain can no longer afford the welfare state”.

From a member of the most profligate snout-in-trough overspenders ever to worm their way into public office and then inflict a harm-the-defenceless agenda on the nation, that will be the biggest lie of all.

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