Targets good, privacy bad

A couple of years ago, a great deal of fury was expressed at the intrusiveness of Ofsted’s ‘TellUs’ surveys. At the time, we said:

If schools and parents are angry now, we must warn that things can only get worse: LAs are planning to issue their own surveys in order to gather performance-indicator data

You need to go back and look at that post in order to understand what we meant, but, basically, we were warning that children’s services would need to step up their data collection so that they – and Ofsted – can assess whether they are meeting their PSA targets, derived from the ‘five outcomes’, the government’s aims for children:

Being Healthy
Staying Safe
Enjoying and Achieving
Making a Positive Contribution
Achieving Economic Wellbeing

(The latest full list of PSA targets and indicators can be downloaded here.)

Today, the Register gives an example of the way in which the task of PSA target-checking is being tackled:

The government obsession with collecting data has now extended to five-year-olds, as local Community Health Services get ready to arm-twist parents into revealing the most intimate details of their own and their child’s personal, behavioural and eating habits.

The questionnaire – or “School Entry Wellbeing Review” – is a four-page tick-box opus, at present being piloted in Lincolnshire, requiring parents to supply over 100 different data points about their own and their offspring’s health. Previously, parents received a “Health Record” on the birth of a child, which contained around eight questions which needed to be answered when that child started school.

The Review asks parents to indicate whether their child “often lies or cheats”: whether they steal or bully; and how often they eat red meat, takeaway meals or fizzy drinks.

However, the interrogation is not limited to intimate details of a child’s health. Parents responding to the survey are asked to provide details about their health and their partner’s health, whether they or their partner are in paid employment, and even to own up to whether or not their child is upset when they (the parent) returns to a room.

All of those questions link to PSA targets. The child’s foodie and health questions come under ‘being healthy’. The parental health questions are more likely to be about ‘staying safe’ – and also ‘enjoying and achieving’ because the answers may indicate that a child has caring responsibilities. Behaviour questions are almost certainly connected with spotting children of potentially criminal disposition for referral to early intervention projects (the ‘making a positive contribution’ strand, which requires children’s services to reduce the number of entrants into the youth justice system). Family income and housing questions are about ‘achieving economic wellbeing’.

The register article continues:

Completing the review is, according to a spokeswoman for Lincolnshire Community Health Services (CHS) “entirely the choice of the parent”. However, the letter accompanying the review states: “Please complete the enclosed questionnaire …and return it to school in the envelope provided within the next 7 days.”

There is no indication on the letter of a parent’s right to opt out, and parents we have spoken with have expressed fears that failure to fill out this questionnaire might mean their child’s access to health services would be diminished.

That’s disgraceful, but not surprising. As we discovered during the course of the ‘informed consent’ project, attitudes to consent/data protection in some local authorities can be perfunctory to the point of indifference. To give a recent example of what I mean, I bumped into this quote from a practitioner who has just started using Contactpoint and says that it has saved time:

“It’s useful to have all the information on one screen rather than having to ask the parents – they can find it frustrating and question why you want to know,”

In other words, perish the thought that parents should inconvenience practitioners by questioning their right to collect and share data. Who on earth do they think they are?


One Response to Targets good, privacy bad

  1. […] Selwyn alludes to but does not directly address the vast issue of privacy invasion and endemic monitoring that these technologies enable. All of a student’s interactions with a computer can be recorded and mined later, a normalising of surveillance that children’s advocates such as Terri Dowty, director of the now-defunct Action for the Rights of Children, have warned about for years. […]

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