The Schools Bill is not about making education better for children, it is about surveillance, the storage and sharing of children’s personal information and coercive State intervention at ever earlier thresholds.
While the Schools Bill is bad for society as a whole, it poses the greatest threat to those who are marginalised or made vulnerable.
One (of many) of the worrying aspects of the legislation is the intention that local authorities be able to store sensitive information, including special category data, collected through other channels, which may not be initially deemed directly relevant to safeguarding a child or in their best interests on the basis that it might one day “in future” be useful.
That this might dovetail with projects such as Project Alpha is a risk, and it is important to note that the “children not in school” registers apply not only to children and young people who are home educated but also to those in some types of alternative education.
Indeed the legislation is so broad at the moment that (as the govt has stated) it could ‘without further provision also captures children who have quite short or minor absences, such as visits to museums.
There is nothing to stop the government from including any other groups of children they choose under the remit of the registers, using the Henry VII powers that the bill grants the Secretary of State.
Also granted to the current Secretary of State – and all those who follow – is free reign for increasing the storage and distribution of children’s information at the national level and enabling unlimited future powers for scope creep at the local government level.
Another part of the Schools Bill is making the new Government guidance on attendance statutory. It details the route schools, and local authorities must follow, culminating in fines, prosecutions, custodial sanctions and referrals to Children’s Social Care Services.
It also includes the live attendance tracking of nine million school children, already being rolled out.
Again, this is to be shared with the central government and the police and other agencies. In a pilot, one police force will send Home Office youth workers from the Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit around within hours of a child or young person not turning up to school to stop them from falling ‘prey to gangs.
What can be done?
It is vital that we make sure everyone who will be impacted by this Schools Bill knows about what is happening. The Schools Bill is currently paused, although meetings on it continue in both the Department for Education and the House of Lords, and there has been talking of the “Schools Act” at meetings our supporters have attended.
Even if this bill is pulled, there will be replacement legislation, including these measures. The government is planning on legislation they can push through in the next two years; anything we can do to make this more difficult could help stop it. So now is the time to make some noise, to tell the government that we are watching, that we won’t let them do this to our children.
The Schools Bill is dangerous; it must be stopped. Please join the following organisations and academics supporting the No to the Schools Bill campaign.