THE BLOG

The School Gates Should Not Be A Border Checkpoint

23/01/2017 17:40
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Classrooms should be safe havens. They are places of learning, discovery and newfound knowledge. The good ones embody other values too - inclusion, equality between students and the right to access education free of discrimination.

But quietly at the end of last year the Department for Education moved to change all that. Without consultation, let alone a debate in the House of Commons, it demanded schools record the nationality and birthplace of every child.

It is a change which threatens the very essence of what our schools should be.
The school gates should not be a border checkpoint and teachers should not act as immigration officers. But despite widespread opposition, the data is being shared with the Home Office for the purpose of immigration enforcement.

The Government's explanation of how the information will be used has been murky at best. At worst it is deliberately deceptive. A Freedom of Information request revealed the Home Office's plan is to create a 'hostile environment' in schools in order to shrink the migrant population.

Information about 1,500 children is now being handed over to the Home Office each month. Their names, addresses and other confidential, personal data are fair game it seems, if there's a chance 'undesirables' can be tracked down.

It's already happening. In October last year, a response to an FOI revealed the Home Office had accessed the database 18 times, which included attempts to track down parents suspected of committing immigration offences.

And if that wasn't bad enough, leaked cabinet letters also revealed that under Theresa May, the Home Office wanted schools to carry out immigration checks with a plan to push the children of some migrants to the bottom of the list for school places.

It's an insidious, damaging policy hidden behind the apparently innocuous school census. Examples of enforcement of the policy have already emerged across the country. In some cases, forms about the new nationality questions have not made it clear to parents they have the right to refuse to provide information. Children themselves have been asked for the information without their parents present and schools have used copies of ID already held to provide the data without asking parents. Schools have even been told to ascribe a nationality to a pupil if no information has been provided. This will subsequently be stored on the register, forever, even though it might be incorrect.

At Garth Hill College in Bracknell, parents were sent different emails depending on their child's ethnicity. Those recorded as white British were asked to respond only if that was incorrect. Those with a different recorded ethnicity were told to send in birthplace data urgently. Elsewhere campaigners have discovered examples of only children with "foreign-sounding names" being asked for data.

It is little wonder that human rights group Liberty and the National Union of Teachers have voiced their concern and opposition.

Post-referendum Britain is already witnessing a growing climate of hostility towards migrants, with an upswing of hate crime incidents following the Brexit vote. This plan for schools comes hot on the heels of similar proposals that companies should also list foreign workers, which were widely opposed as toxic.

The latest moves on schools go further still. If xenophobic policies continue to push the boundaries of acceptability we could well end up with our own version of Marine Le Pen's proposal to bar children of jobless foreigners from state schools entirely, unless their parents pay.

Education is a right, not a privilege. We need to let children be children, and support them to learn and grow in a safe and secure environment. Every parent should be able to send their child to school without fear.

Please join us in opposing segregation by passport. No one should be discriminated against because of their nationality, and teaching such discrimination to children from an early age is a lesson in how to spread fear, hatred and division. We all deserve better.

Jonathan Bartley is the co-leader of the Green Party

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