All children have the right to an education. This should not be an impossible demand, and is echoed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified in British law since 1992. In spite of this, the UK government has chosen to discriminate and gatekeep against migrant and black and minority ethnic (BME) children in schools, who should all be entitled to an education free from prejudice.
Since September 2016, the Government has requested that schools collect information on children aged 5-19 about the country they were born in and the nationality of their parents. The standard data that the government collects on children through schools includes information on attainment outcomes, which can help to measure where children are doing well and areas that need improvement. The Government claimed that the new data they requested would be used for the same purpose, however it’s unclear how information about children’s country of birth and nationality can usefully measure their educational needs.
Our current Prime Minister Theresa May, in her previous role as Home Secretary, proposed plans for schools to check the immigration status of children applying for school places, in an attempt to ‘deprioritise’ children with insecure immigration status for school places. Leaked documents show that the collection of country of birth and nationality data was a compromise between her and then Minister for Education Nicky Morgan, who had raised concerns about the idea.
Since the policy’s introduction, it has become apparent that the Home Office has in fact accessed school census data for immigration control purposes. This policy hangover from May’s previous role remains – the data collection was never intended to support children’s needs, but was instead a tactic to introduce immigration control in schools.
It is important to remember how institutional racism shapes and is mirrored in the racist behaviour of individuals. Reports tell of teachers approaching BME children to request country of birth and nationality data, yet not requesting the same data from white students. The data input form also advises teachers to “guess” the ethnicity of children for whom they are unable to collect data for. The impact of this is alarming: rates of primary school children being excluded from school for racist bullying have increased in recent years. When mainstream Othering and scapegoating of BME and migrant communities is led and perpetuated by government policy, it is no surprise that even primary school children are mirroring the discriminatory ideas and language that are shaped by the state.
In October 2016 the Against Borders for Children (ABC) campaign, an ever-growing collection of parents, teachers, schools, campaigners and children, came together to challenge this racist and xenophobic intrusion into the lives of schoolchildren. Over the last year, the campaign has been gathering pace and has already achieved positive changes, including a successful motion in the House of Lords regretting the collection of children’s nationality data, a promise from the Government that nationality data will not be included in the National Pupil Database or shared with the Home Office, support from the National Union of Teachers and former Chief Inspector of Ofsted, and securing a right for parents to retract previously provided data which is now stated in rewritten Department for Education guidance. In spite of this, the ABC campaign believes that the Government’s widely denounced policy must be stopped in its entirety. Migrant children are already caught up in the Government’s attempts to create a hostile environment for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
In Britain, those from a BME and migrant background face daily profiling and constant reminders that they do not belong, be it in school, in university, on the street, when accessing health care or even when trying to secure housing. Children are growing up knowing that the structures that they should be able to rely on, in a country where they may have been born, or have lived for the majority of their lives, are ever-ready to discriminate against them. We can help to resist this institutional discrimination against children by refusing to provide information on their nationalities and countries of birth to the government.
Find out more about the campaign, how you can get involved and how to share information with any parents and teachers that you know here. The ABC campaign has prepared a template letter for parents to remove any data collected on children, which is available to download here.