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The School Census Is Turning Sanctuaries Of Learning And Growth Into Places Of Discrimination And Division - It Must Be Boycotted

17/05/2017 09:05 | Updated 17 May 2017
Caiaimage/Sam Edwards via Getty Images

On 18 May 1896, the United States Supreme Court legitimised racial segregation in the education system in the infamous case of Plessy v Ferguson.

Now nearly universally reviled, the practice was never sanctioned here. And in 2017 it's unthinkable that schools could be obliged to single out and separate children on the grounds of race, religion or nationality.

Isn't it?

Tomorrow, exactly 121 years later, the summer school census will ask millions of parents and guardians all over England to hand over their children's nationalities and birth countries to the government - a scheme designed not just to remove certain kids from the classroom, but from the country.

The Department for Education (DfE) quietly made the seemingly innocuous additions to the termly census last September, insisting the stats were needed for "internal analysis".

But subsequent revelations and a leaked data-sharing agreement between the Home Office and DfE have exposed the true toxic motivation - a plan to build lists of foreign children to aid deportation of schoolchildren and their families.

By fooling parents into 'incriminating' themselves and their children - and making other parents unknowingly complicit in targeting them - the census is turning schools from sanctuaries of learning, creativity and growth into places of discrimination, fear and division. This is the UK. Every child has a right to an education here - and that right isn't conditional on the accident of where they were born. We don't punish children for their parents' immigration status, or so we thought.

This policy will result in some of the most vulnerable children on our shores vanishing into the shadows - kept at home by parents in fear of removal, unable to study, develop or see their friends.

But building borders in classrooms is just one way the tentacles of immigration control have wriggled their poisonous way into so many aspects of our lives in recent years.

So-called "hostile environment" policies are designed to make life as unbearable as possible for migrants - largely by isolating them, rendering them destitute and denying them essential services, leaving many open to exploitation and abuse.

By forcing trusted public servants to assume duties that should belong only with our border police, they have sown distrust and division into the fabric of life in the UK.

The "right to rent" scheme, which requires landlords to let properties only to those with a legal right to live in the UK - or face jail time - has already been shown to fuel discrimination. The Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants is now crowdfunding a legal challenge to the scheme.

The police service rightly backed away from immigration control almost 30 years ago because of the damage it was causing to police-community relations.

But now police are tasked with stopping and searching drivers under the new crime of "driving whilst illegal" - and people must now declare their nationality on arrest.

Doctors can no longer assure their patients of confidentiality because NHS data is being handed to the Home Office - and charities are being roped in to shop foreign nationals sleeping on the streets.

The streets are not paved with gold - they're made of quicksand.

These policies fly in the face of all we have achieved in race relations and equality laws in recent decades. It makes a mockery of the values our democracy stands for - compassion, fairness and respect for every person's dignity.

But there's hope. On this exact day 63 years ago, Plessy v Ferguson was declared unconstitutional - reminding us that we, the people, can push back against even the most institutionalised cruelty.

We can dismantle this system and put basic decency back into politics. And we can start tomorrow. Parents and guardians are not legally obliged to hand over information on their child's nationality or country of birth. They also have a right to withdraw this data if they provided it earlier in the school year.

If everybody boycotts the summer census and takes back information already handed over, the government won't be able to justify this policy's existence - whoever's running the country on 9 June.

Against Borders for Children has drawn up a template letter which can be easily used to withdraw information.

And Liberty is currently interviewing parents and students affected so that we can challenge this toxic policy in the courts.

Now's the time to think about what kind of nation we are - and what kind we want to be. Stay vigilant. Stay kind. Refuse, retract, resist.

Martha Spurrier is the director of Liberty

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