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Counting children outside schools in national records

Getting numbers right

Counting Children is a coalition of organisations and academics with intersectional interests from across the fields of safeguarding and child protection, education, SEND, data protection, law, and human rights. We are concerned about current quality and standards in debate about children out of school and the inaccurate use of facts and figures by senior politicians, institutions, and their apparant lack of understanding about law and practice on children’s databases in England and Wales.

We aim to 

  • increase the level of informed knowledge in public discussions and media;  
  • create a place to stay up to date with proposed policy and legislation;   
  • understand shared concerns and consensus, and any areas of disagreement;  
  • create a pool of expert and experienced voices for better evidence-based policy.

Calls for more data and its distribution

Even before the publication of the Schools White Paper the DfE had begun to trial national ‘real-time’ attendance data tracking at individual pupil level. It also proposes introducing “legislation to establish a register for children not in school, exploring how this data should be used by local authorities and multi-agency teams to undertake their duties and support children’s education,” (77) and a “range of measures to improve the sharing of information between organisations working with vulnerable children, including data and intelligence about attendance, exclusions and those removed from school rolls.” (165)

The Children’s Commissioner for England has called for “a single unique identifier” or “a more consistent multi-agency use of widely used ‘identifiers’, such as an NHS number” and wants to make school attendance “everyone’s business”, even the Home Office / Border Force.

Since there are already obligations on Local Authorities to make arrangements to identify children not receiving suitable education in the Education Act 1996 436a it is unclear what any new duties will be exactly beyond this, and we see no necessary proportionate reason for data at national level to be on a named child-level basis, rather than statistics.

The pandemic has exacerbated needs. The new proposals around data will create new or additional administrative burdens rather than addressing any underlying causes. Any resources diverted to create new databases or ID systems to support institutional wants, diverts capacity and funding away from meeting individual needs. This does nothing to improve the lives that government and its arms length bodies claim to want to help.

Clause 49* and the Schools Bill

We oppose Clause 49 in the Schools Bill around data registers. It will be divisive, and fundamentally shift the balance of power between families and the State. It fails to recognise what databases already exist, where pupil data collection will be duplicated (AP, part-time, flexi-schooling) and that new legislation is not needed. It writes a “blank cheque” for the Secretary of State’s future powers on changes to data gathering and distribution at the national level. It creates unlimited future powers for scope creep of data collection and distribution at local government level, which harms public trust: especially when talking about access by police, Home Office and other government departments.

There is no oversight of how Local Authorities powers will affect families or outcomes and no safeguards on the unlimited powers to collect unlimited highly sensitive personal confidential data on demand.

Since registers already exist at Local Authority level, and data collection and distribution already happens for the children who are in the scope of the Bill, we propose replacing Clause 49 with a Code of Practice that will create clear, consistent and confident data practices at Local Authority level and improve the existing quality and standards of data practices, especially  between LA and other bodies (prescribed persons) and the Secretary of State. We don’t need more data, but better use of data, delivered through better data governance. (Clause 48* became Clause 49 between Committee and Report Stages of the draft Bill.)

Find out the latest updates from our campaign and read what has been published in the media.

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We take on board the point made during the session that a register on its own would not achieve much.

December 2020, Letter from Robert Halfon to Gavin Williamson on the proposals for an additonal EHE national register.

it is not accurate to say that “nearly 100,000 children have failed to return to school full-time since they reopened.

Full Fact, 2021