Clause 14

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 7th February 2008.

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Educational institutions: duty to provide information

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment No. 17, in clause 14, page 7, line 29, after ‘authority’, insert

‘provided that the relevant pupil or student has given written consent for the information to be provided.’.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 16, in clause 14, page 7, line 36, at end insert—

‘(3A) Any pupil or student to whom subsection (1) applies shall have the right to examine any relevant information requested by a local authority before that information is provided by the responsible person to the authority.’.

No. 19, in clause 14, page 7, line 36, at end insert—

‘(3A) Any pupil or student to whom subsection (1) applies shall be given the opportunity to correct any relevant information regarded by him as inaccurate, subject to the agreement of the responsible person.

(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A), when agreement cannot be reached between the pupil or student and the responsible person the Information Commissioner shall decide what correction, if any, should be made to the relevant information.’.

No. 170, in clause 14, page 7, line 36, at end insert

‘which is relevant to assessing their educational and support needs.’.

No. 18, in clause 14, page 7, line 43, leave out ‘instructed the responsible person not’ and insert

‘not given written consent to the responsible person’.

No. 97, in clause 57, page 30, line 34, at beginning insert

‘Subject to the written consent of the pupil or student,’.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

The clause imposes a duty on educational institutions—schools and colleges—to provide information about their students to a local authority if they are requested to do so by that authority. The data sharing provisions raise significant human rights implications, and I focus on those issues in later amendments, particularly amendment No. 42. I alert the Committee to the fact that the issues are of interest to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I say no more than that at this stage.

The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) wrote to the Minister setting out his concerns, and the Minister responded in his letter of 10 January 2008. The hon. Member for Hendon raised a number of questions, which I will address when we talk about the data sharing provisions in clause 57 and amendment No. 42. As far as the series of amendments is concerned, I want to focus first on the rather innocuous information that clause 14 seeks to obtain: the name, address and date of birth of the student and the student’s parents. Also included in clause 14(3)(c), however, is

“information in the institution’s possession about the pupil or student.”

Such information could relate to the student’s grades, test scores, study problems raised by the student with his or her tutor, personal problems raised by the student or financial issues that the student has. It could relate to the student’s health, behaviour or any other information that the school or college has. Clause 14(4) does of course give the student the right to instruct the school or college not to provide such information, but that amounts to an opt-out approach, rather than an opt-in. In response to a question from the hon. Member for Hove, the Minister said that he had rung Connexions that very morning, and he said about young people’s consent:

“At the point at which they go on to the database at 13, it is done on the basis of presumed parental consent, so parents can not give consent for it to happen, but that is just the very basic data. From then on in, the young person has to give active consent for the data to be shared with other agencies. That is what happens at the moment and when it transfers we do not foresee that changing.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2008; c. 214, Q494.]

That is odd, given that clause 14(4) requires the student to instruct the institution not to supply the information. Thus, if no instruction is received, the college can presumably go ahead and supply the information, notwithstanding the fact that no consent was actively given.

It would help if the Minister clarified his remarks. By “active consent”, did he mean the opt-out approach set out in clause 14(4), which I would not call active consent, or did he mean that the data on the Connexions customer information system database can be divulged to others only with proper active consent from the young people, but that data from educational institutions going on to the Connexions caseload information systems database can be made available by the college on the basis of non-active consent, as set out in clause 14(4)? If the latter, why is the nature of the consent required different?

Amendment No. 17 would require written consent from the student before any information about him or her could be supplied. The college or local authority would actively have to approach the student, inform him or her that information was being requested by the local authority and request from the student written consent for that information to be supplied. The danger of the opt-out approach is that the student will not necessarily know what information has been requested or that he has the right to object to that information being supplied. I suspect that, if not amended, the clause will result in a large amount of personal educational information being supplied to local authorities without students realising it. Given that that information will be used for a totally different purpose from that for which it was made available in the first place, it is important that the safeguard in the amendment be put in place.

The Bill’s approach is in conflict with the principles of the Data Protection Act 1998. For example, one of the key principles of the Act is:

“Personal data should be obtained only for one or more specified and lawful purposes and shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.”

If we do not put in place the safeguard that the amendment would provide, we could find that students are reluctant to raise academic and personal problems with tutors lest the information end up in the hands of authorities or other people and their privacy evaporates.

Amendment No. 16 would give a student the right to examine any information held on him by a school or college and requested by the local authority, so that he could correct any inaccuracies. Amendment No. 19 would give a student the right to have that information corrected, subject to the agreement of the school or college. If agreement could not be reached on whether the information was accurate, the matter could be referred to the Information Commissioner for adjudication.

We have to be careful about personal data on us that is held by state-run organisations. People need to be able to check its accuracy, and we need to be sure that the information is secure. The Government’s record on securing our personal data is not good: the Criminal Records Bureau mistakenly labelled 2,700 innocent people as having criminal records; the sex offenders register lost track of 300 hundred offenders; 27,000 criminals, many of them serious, were left off the police national computer; 100,000 innocent children are on  the DNA database; 26,000 police-collected samples were mistakenly left off the police national computer; and 500,000 entries were misrecorded. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs lost 25 million personal records, including information about children and people’s bank accounts, and last year there were 2,110 other security breaches by HMRC; the Department for Transport lost 3 million driving licence applications; and the Ministry of Defence left a laptop, containing the details of thousands of people who had expressed an interest in joining the Army, in the back of a car, from where it was stolen.

Again, the Data Protection Act gives people the right to access their personal data, which is important, and the right to correct or destroy inaccurate data. It is important therefore that the Bill is consistent, and in accordance with, the principles of that Act.

Privacy is a concern to the Children’s Rights Alliance, which said that

“extensive measures in the Bill for information sharing, in order to facilitate enforcement of the duty, are a further serious threat to Children's privacy.”

It also conducted a series of focus groups with young people, discussing the issue of information sharing. Its report says:

“There was concern that if children thought adults were going to share information with other people, they would stop confiding in adults altogether. They believed that adults ought to be able to sort out difficulties with children and young people without having to breach their confidence.”

The report includes a quotation from a 17-year-old young woman at the focus group, who said:

“I think the people who are passing information need to consider the consequences of what will happen if they disrespect the child’s wishes...like the child’s not going to confide in them anymore or trust them. Obviously that's going to be bad if they’re in a situation where they’re in danger or they’re self harming...and then they’ve got no one to turn to because they don’t trust anyone”.

On the issue of whether information could be shared with other organisations without the permission of the young person, the report says:

“There was general agreement that it was essential to try to get permission before sharing information, and only break refusal of permission in the most exceptional circumstances. One young man felt that he would be really angry if he found out information had been shared without his permission, even if the adult thought it necessary to share information”.

The Government must also use the right database and computer system. The Association of Colleges says:

“The intention is that local authorities will maintain and improve existing Connexions Caseload Information Systems database”— the CCIS. The association continues:

“AoC is not satisfied that this database is fit for purpose and believes it will need significant improvement in advance of 2015.”

The Local Government Association, in its briefing, also talks about improving the “accuracy” of the Connexions database.

We also support amendment No. 170, tabled by the hon. Member for Yeovil, which would refine the information that can be supplied to that

“which is relevant to assessing their educational and support needs”.

That must be right. The Bill requires colleges and schools to provide any information in the institution’s possession about the student or pupil, which is far too wide a provision.

The amendments are important, because they would provide legislative protection for the privacy and rights  of 16 and 17-year-olds—on which the Bill seriously impinges. Such issues are increasingly important in what is rapidly becoming a surveillance society, and we must always be vigilant about protecting people’s privacy, information and personal data.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]

Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes to Four o’clock till Tuesday 19 February at half-past Ten o’clock.