The government is collecting data on children’s nationality in school – but parents can resist, writes KOJO KYEREWA
TODAY, millions of parents, carers and guardians are being asked by their local schools for their children’s nationality and country of birth.
Against Borders for Children (ABC) is urging parents, carers and guardians of school-age children to exercise their legal right to refuse to answer these questions.
Asking such questions in schools is divisive and has already caused racist outcomes for vulnerable children. But also trusting the government to safeguard this data is risky, especially in the current political climate.
When we first started our campaign, we were concerned about the motivations for this data-gathering.
We were horrified to discover last year that since June 2015, the Department for Education (DoE) had an “memorandum of understanding” to share pupil data with the Home Office with the “strategic aim” — in the government’s own words — of creating a “hostile environment” for undocumented migrants, including their children.
The summer school census requires state schools and academies in England to collect a range of data on their pupils and their progress and submit it to the DoE by June 14.
This administrative practice, which takes place each school term, has been in place for over 20 years. But this academic year has been very different.
It was last July when the Conservative government, without parliamentary debate, quietly added nationality and country of birth to the list of questions to both the school census and the early-years census, which is carried out annually by childminders and pre-school nurseries.
This decision took place amid the surge of racially motivated attacks in the wake of the EU referendum result. One racially motivated attack included notes hung on school gates telling Polish children to “go home.”
We, as a group of parents, teachers and migrants’ rights campaigners, formed ABC to campaign for this decision to be reversed and to protect all children from immigration enforcement.
We were initially concerned about the impact of and motivations behind this new data collection, not only because of Brexit but because of the aggressive set of policies directed towards migrants as a result of the Conservative pledge to drive immigration down to the “tens of thousands.”
Human rights groups such as the Refugee Council, Liberty and others joined us to write a letter to Education Secretary Justine Greening to protect all children and scrap this policy.
After our letter brought this issue to the public’s attention, the House of Lords held a debate on the policy where it was described as having “all the hallmarks of racism” and was rejected by the House.
The policy has also been criticised by many in the teaching profession. The National Union of Teachers and the outgoing head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw both said that schools should not be used for immigration control but the government has still persisted in bringing borders into the classroom.
Since the measure was introduced, there have been reports about schools asking black and ethnic minority pupils to prove that they were British, some even demanding to see passports.
We are living through an extraordinary period in history where Britain’s schools, in an attempt to fulfil a government directive, are questioning the presence of black and ethnic minority children.
This week, bus shelters and advertising spaces on other transport spaces have had posters quoting migrant children saying: “I have the right to feel safe at school,” and asking people to see this policy as a threat to children in our communities.
Carers of school-aged children can refuse to answer or, if they have answered the question in either the autumn or spring term censuses, can retract this information using the template letters on the ABC campaign’s website (www.schoolsabc.net) and resist.
Spread the word, ask your head teacher what they are doing to ensure every parent is informed about the risks of this policy.
There is a broader question at stake: what sort of society do we want to live in?
Do we want a society where some children, through no fault of their own, are pulled out of school, made homeless and put in very dangerous situations because of the fear of immigration raids?
We believe that every child in this country deserves an education, that borders have no place in centres of learning and child development.
We have forced a government concession already as these questions were dropped for pre-school children in November 2016.
So if enough people boycott the nationality questions in the school census, we will have an opportunity to force the government to drop this policy for all children.