Tuesday, May 02, 2006

National Pupil Database

In 1997, the Government came to power with three stated priorities: education, crime and ‘modernisation’. In education, they identified a need to ‘drive up standards’ in order to ensure that the workforce was sufficiently skilled to meet the challenges presented by developments in information technology and the new ‘knowledge economy’. The first two databases we're going to deal with are concerned with this priority.

The 1996 Education Act (s537) empowered the government to collect information about pupils directly from schools; however, this specifically could not include the name of any pupil. Since then, a series of amendments and regulations has changed that situation to enable, since 2000, a regular ‘pupil level’ census of every pupil in a state-maintained school; the range of information collected has also increased incrementally.

In particular, the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 schedule 30 para.153 allows the Secretary of State to prescribe in regulations the data to be collected, and the people or bodies with whom it may be shared. More information about the series of regulations that has since followed can be found by searching on ‘Education (Information about Individual Pupils) (England) Regulations’ – there is too much to list here.

Capita, who carry out the census on behalf of the DfES, takes information directly from each school’s system on the dates prescribed by DfES. Until this year, the census was held annually in Jan/Feb (the Pupil Level Annual School Census or PLASC), but from 2006 it will be a termly census in secondary schools; primary schools will follow suit next year. This year the census has also been extended to include nursery schools. The full list of data items, and more detailed information about the census can be found here.

Because the legislation says that schools must supply the data (a ‘statutory duty’ - which provides an exception to certain requirements of the Data Protection Act) parents and children do not have to give consent, nor do they have to be informed that it is taking place.

Once collected, the information is held on the National Pupil Database (NPD) and at the moment is principally used statistically or for research. LEAs can also obtain information that relates to pupils in their area. The database has fairly recently been expanded to incorporate the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority database, which holds the records of key stage tests and public exams, and other information formerly held on other systems about attendance and exclusion. It remains to be seen whether use of the data will gradually increase, as this TES article seems to suggest it may.

Data held on the NPD will not be deleted, as this Parliamentary Written Answer (PWA) makes clear:
"The Department does not intend to delete the records of pupils who leave the maintained schools sector, either at age 16 or 18, or before then."


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