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No more slurping of kids' nationalities, Brit schools told

But Department for Education admits historic data will be retained

Schools have been told not to suck up information on kids' nationalities or country of birth – but historic data will not be deleted.

The climbdown, which was predicted earlier this year, was revealed in a guide to the schools census – the statutory survey of students that takes place three times a year – that was published as part of a document dump from the the Department for Education.

The guide (PDF), for autumn 2018 to summer 2019, said that neither pupil country of birth nor nationality are required from autumn 2019 onwards.

"Schools must no longer request this information from parents, or retain the data within their system, for purpose of transmitting to the department via the school census," the DfE document stated.

However, historic data that has already been gathered since the policy was introduced in October 2016 will not be deleted. The department intends to use this for research purposes, but has pointed to periodic reviews it will carry out to demonstrate that it won't be retained for longer than necessary.

This is a bone of contention for campaigners who have lobbied against the collection since it was revealed that the data had been used in immigration enforcement.

Jen Persson, co-ordinator of privacy group defenddigitalme, called for the data collected thus far to be destroyed "so that it can't be misused in ways we've only been told it won't be today or by any other future government".

Nonetheless, she welcomed today's confirmation that the department will no longer ask schools to collect the information.

"Public and professional trust relies on data being used for what we are told and what we expect, and scrutiny and safeguards to uphold that unspoken social licence, need built into lawmaking," Persson told The Register.

"Nationality data once collected were going to go straight to the Home Office in a secret data sharing agreement, that failed those tests, broke that trust, and caused children harm."

Gracie Bradley, advocacy manager for Liberty, echoed these comments, describing it as a "huge victory" – but added it was "shameful it took a nationwide boycott and legal action for this toxic policy to end - and it is disgraceful they are not deleting the data they did manage to collect".

Campaigners also pointed out that information on children's gender, name, date of birth and school address are still gathered up into the National Pupil Database – the hulking collection that counts more than 23 million people, many of whom are now adults.

There are concerns that this data is shared with third parties and other government departments, including the Home Office as part of the Conservatives' "hostile environment" policy.

This policy has come under increasing pressure in recent months; the government was forced to U-turn on a deal that required NHS Digital to hand over non-clinical information to the Home Office, and new home secretary Sajid Javid has distanced himself from the phrase, while relaxing the immigration cap on skilled workers. ®

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