Not remotely safe in their hands

November 20, 2007

I doubt there’s anyone who doesn’t know about HMRC’s Child Benefit debacle by now. As you can imagine, we’re a bit busy and the phone has got heat exhaustion.

This is the press release we put out earlier (NB the numbers have gone up since we sent this out):



Action on Rights for Children is stunned to learn that HMRC has lost computer disks containing the details of the UK’s 15 million children.

Terri Dowty, Director of ARCH said: “This appalling security lapse has placed children in the UK in immediate danger especially those who are already vulnerable. Child Benefit records contain every child’s address and date of birth. We are not surprised that the Chair of HMRC’s Board has resigned immediately.”

Last year Terri Dowty co-authored a report for the Information Commissioner which highlighted the risks to children’s safety of the government’s policy of creating large, centralised databases containing sensitive information about children. The government chose to dismiss the concerns of the reports authors.

“The government has recently passed regulations allowing them to build databases containing details of every child in England. They have also announced an intention to create a second national database containing the in-depth personal profiles of children using services. They have batted all constructive criticism away, and repeatedly stressed that children’s data is safe in their hands.

“The events of today demonstrate that this is simply not the case, and all of our concerns for children’s safety are fully justified.”


The report ‘Children’s Databases: Safety and Privacy’ can be downloaded from:


SitH (12)

November 19, 2007

A mitigated disaster, perhaps? From The Register: MoD defends £5bn IT system

The MoD has responded to a joint investigation by Channel 4 News and Computer Weekly which claimed the project was massively behind schedule and would cost an extra £1bn.

Channel 4 uncovered several internal emails from defence staff, which savaged parts of the system for not working. One described the roll out of the DII in the infantry guided weapons integrated project team as “an unmitigated disaster”.

The project, which was awarded to the EDS led consortium, Atlas, in March 2005, aims to bring together some 300 disparate defence IT systems under a single infrastructure to improve communication and support across the entire defence community. But the MoD admitted that last year it had been hit by major problems.

The project has apparently changed 22 times, and only about a quarter of the 70,000 systems that were due to have been installed under the original plan had been implemented by the end of July 2007.

Government expenditure plans for 2007-08 now put the projected cost of the DII at £5bn – a £1bn increase from previous estimates.

Political Football

November 18, 2007


Here’s our target du jour: by the age of 30, all MPs will have stopped using children for political target-practice.

And as for this:

one in five children are still struggling with literacy

They’re clearly not alone.

Biometric Scream

November 17, 2007


We’ve been a bit busy over the past few days, amongst other things with the use of biometrics in schools, so this Dilbert cartoon is particularly apposite. (thanks Ian)

Don’t know if we’ve mentioned that our briefing on child-tracking is now up on the website. At the moment we’re concentrating on biometrics and on location tracking… and trying to get schools to respond to our Freedom of Information requests on their use of CCTV: given that we only received 13 replies to over 200 requests sent out in July, at the moment it appears that FOI Act obligations have escaped schools’ notice.

Another £1bn for Capgemini

November 11, 2007


We have a particular interest in Capgemini since they were awarded the contract to build Contactpoint – aka the central identity management system for children’s services. Back in January we mentioned the fast-rising costs of HMRC’s ASPIRE system, and now there’s more on Tony Collins’ blog:

HM Revenue and Customs has struck a deal with its IT supplier Capgemini that cuts the annual technology spend by hundreds of millions over the life of the contract. The agreement compensates the company with a contract extension worth more than £1bn.

I guess Contactpoint – at a mere £224m – must seem like loose change on the bedside table. Assuming the estimates are correct, of course…

Shock: children need relationships

November 11, 2007


For the first time in decades, some education news that can actually be described as exciting. A report due out on Wednesday will recommend that mega-factory schools are broken down into far smaller units:

The policy document from Teach First, the organisation that places top graduates in tough inner-city schools, argues that some schools are so large that some children are falling ‘under the radar’ and failing to build up relationships with the staff. The report, which was shown to Adonis last week, calls for each large school to be broken down into a series of small schools serving about 150 pupils.

It seems so blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever taught in a large comprehensive. It also chimes with some interesting research around school exclusion a few years ago: pupils who were on their ‘last chance’ were each assigned a teacher whose job it was to find the child each day and simply chat to them in a friendly fashion. Behaviour improved remarkably and none of the pupils was excluded. I know it was reported in the TES but have lost the reference. If anyone remembers the details I’d be grateful for them.

Beyond Tellus2

November 7, 2007


As we’ve mentioned before, the ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda has placed responsibility on local authorities (not parents) for ensuring that children achieve the government’s ‘five outcomes’. LAs have been given a list of indicators and Public Service Agreement targets (PSAs) against which to measure their progress. These include things like the number of children consuming cigarettes, alcohol and/or 5 fruit and veg per day.

We’ve already had the Ofsted ‘Tellus2’ survey in June asking children a great many questions about their habits and home life, and now a new website lists the local authority health and wellbeing surveys going on in schools.

While Camden conducts their surveys anonymously, it has to be asked just how anonymous a questionnaire can be if it is administered in the classroom and obtains sufficient detail to break down results by ethnicity, gender etc. As for the other LAs, assuring children of confidentiality is hardly the same thing as gathering anonymous, aggregate data – that is, assuming one agrees that it’s any of their business in the first place.