The Times headlined today on the appearance of a ‘new’ database:

All 14-year-old children in England will have their personal details and exam results placed on an electronic database for life under a plan to be announced tomorrow.

Actually, every child already has a vast amount of personal data on a national database from the time they first go to a childminder or nursery. The National Pupil Database has been in existence for around 8 years. It includes behaviour and attendance data, key stage test and exam results and all sorts of information about ethnicity, special needs and entitlement to free school meals. It’s a permanent record, bolstered by thrice-yearly collections straight off the school system.

Since around 2003 there has also been an ‘Individualised Learner Record’ (ILR) containing data about courses and qualifications taken by everyone over 18. This is now to become MIAP and the age of entry has been lowered to 14. The idea is that students themselves will have direct Internet access to their records, and they can also compile a profile which they can allow prospective employers, admissions tutors etc to access.

I won’t claim to be laid back about the MIAP system – caveats about data security and function creep apply – but on the ARCH scale of horrifying databases, it doesn’t score highly. I can also see that there may be advantages to giving students direct access: it makes it easier to check its accuracy because it’s far less cumbersome than making subject access requests. Allowing a student to grant an employer access to a restricted profile saves the hassle of sending of for copies of lost exam certificates. The key to it all will be whether it remains in the control of the student and not the government or the Learning and Skills Council.

We were a bit puzzled about this sentence:

Last night teachers’ leaders, parents’ organisations, opposition MPs and human rights campaigners questioned whether this Big Brother approach was necessary and said that it could compromise the personal security of millions of teenagers.

I’m not sure which ‘human rights campaigners’ expressed a view. We were not contacted here at ARCH, which is surprising when we’re the only org working in children’s data protection/privacy rights, and nor were any of the ‘usual suspects’ as far as I can ascertain.

I guess what really concerns all of us is the prominence given to a story about MIAP, when the eCAF – now to be extended right into the whole family – hasn’t received the attention it urgently needs. Nor have a heap of other utterly objectionable databases. Now that really would merit the frontpage treatment, but newspapers are reluctant to run stories unless there’s a ‘news hook’ for them, and the government is being very careful not to provide one.

If you still don’t know what eCAF is all about, click on the logo above or watch our Youtube film – and spread the links as widely as you can.


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