The government has announced that it is halting access to personal information about school pupil data by researchers and other organisations.

The Department for Education says the temporary move will help modify the approval process for accessing the national pupil database.

The announcement follows the need to be compliant with EU data privacy rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which are tightened from 25 May and give children new rights.

In a statement, the DfT says: “We take seriously the use of personal information and the General Data Protection Regulation implications.

“We have temporarily paused applications for accessing pupil data ahead of the GDPR implementation from the national pupil database.”

Strategies in education

The database itself was created to help educational experts study the effect of various strategies in education over a period of time.

Now that access has been paused, the move was made on 1 May, the DfE says it will provide more information next month.

However, campaigners have been raising their concerns that most parents are unaware that data about millions of English schoolchildren can be shared with businesses and academics.

A survey by Defend Digital Me, a data privacy campaign, revealed that 69% of parents had no idea about the data sharing.

Also, parents and children are not currently allowed to access their own data.

Applications can request different levels of pupil data

The applications can request different levels of pupil data including a child’s name, address, disability and ethnicity. These details can only be accessed under certain rules by third parties.

Now, Defend Digital Me is calling for a shake-up in how school pupil data is being managed.

One cyber security expert, Prof Ross Anderson, has also raised concerns despite other researchers at the University of Cambridge where he works making use of the database.

He explained: “The government forces schools to collect data that is then given or sold to firms to exploit with no meaningful consent.”

He added that pupils and parents have no right to access the database to check whether the information being held is correct and if it’s not, having it corrected.

National pupil database has been in existence since 1998

The national pupil database has been in existence since 1998 with records of more than 21 million schoolchildren in English schools.

Defend Digital Me also found that data on 1.2 million Scottish children has been collected over the last 10 years though pupils are not named. The organisation used the Freedom of information request to access the findings.

For those pupils, teachers and parents who are interested in who is accessing the database, they can find out why they are doing so on the DfE’s website.

Most of the applications come from academic researchers and relate to various projects that study the impact of education.

However, private firms offering education consulting services to local authorities are also accessing the information and there’s an unapproved application from the Home Office to access data on school children for immigration control purposes.

 

More information

Details about those who are accessing the school pupils database are found on the DFE’s website.