Boycott the racist school census: Keep border controls out of our classrooms

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school census

The Home Office has admitted that it intends to use data from this year’s school census to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrant children. For the first time, from October 2016, the school census includes questions about nationality and country of birth. The Department of Education will pass on information on up to 1,500 children a month to immigration officials, bringing the UK Border Agency right into Britain’s classrooms. The information is used to track down and deport migrant children and their families. When some schools and nurseries in Hackney, in east London, collected nationality information in July 2016 the result was the deportation of up to 50 schoolchildren. The RCG and other activists such as Against Borders for Children (ABC) have been mobilising against the January 2017 census, encouraging all parents to show solidarity and exercise their right to write ‘refused’ next to these intrusive and patently racist questions.

This racist census is the latest assault in a much longer trajectory of the British state targeting the children of migrants. In 2013 the government discussed excluding children with ‘irregular’ immigration status from schools; in 2015 the then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan called for a review of ‘education tourism’ and how much it is a ‘pull factor’ for migrants. Theresa May wanted the 2016 Immigration Act to legislate for the withdrawal of school places for children with irregular immigration status, and called for schools to check passports before accepting new pupils. This was rejected by other government officials – in favour of placing a legal duty on schools to collect pupils’ nationality and country of birth data via the census.

The government argues that collecting this data will help ensure that the educational progress of migrant children is monitored and adequate support is being provided. This is hogwash. Support funding for all schools is being slashed, with schools facing real-term reductions in spending per pupil for the first time since the 1990s. It amounts to an 8% cut per pupil between 2014-15 and 2019-20, with schools having to lose up to £80,000 a year.

As the director of Liberty, Martha Spurrier, put it: ‘This isn’t a data-sharing agreement – it is a secret government programme that turns the Department for Education into a border control force with an explicit aim to create a hostile environment in schools and assist with mass deportation of innocent children and their families.’

The Home Office and Department for Education guidance on the census has been deliberately unclear about the rights of parents and the duty of schools. This has led to schools asking for children’s passports, which they are not mandated to do; foreign pupils being singled out for information on nationality; parents being told to confirm if their children are asylum seekers; and parents being told that the new questions were mandatory.

In reality, all parents can and should refuse to provide any information on nationality. It is their right to do so, and schools can enter ‘refused’ or ‘not yet obtained’ on the school census, without any sanctions. Parents also can and should retract any data already provided. You can do so in writing, instructing the school not to submit that information to the Department for Education, and schools should not be asking to see passports. Liberty and ABC have sent this information to all head teachers in England.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters in London and Newcastle have supported the call to withhold information on nationality, holding stalls outside schools to encourage parents to boycott the questions. We explained their rights; helping them to fill out template letters to the school; and have sent information to hundreds of school offices and governors asking them not to comply and to inform parents of their rights. The sense of solidarity amongst parents was overwhelming with everyone, whatever their own status, agreeing that all children have the right to an education. In response to our leafleting outside a school in Newcastle, a working class white British mother marched down to the school’s reception and demanded that all information on her children be removed from the census! This shows the kind of solidarity that can be built against state racism. A united front against the racist school census protects migrant children and their families, and defends education for all of our children in the long run.

Together we are stronger. Together we can win!

If you have already provided nationality and country of birth data you can still get it retracted and deleted from records. There is a model letter on the ABC website that you can use: www.schoolsabc.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/census_opt_out_2017.pdfuploads/2016/09/census_opt_out_2017.pdf

Mark Moncada

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 255 February/March 2017