Schools are asking parents if their children are immigrants

A census has become controversial. 

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Parents usually love talking about their kids. But this year, a question in the autumn schools census is leaving some incensed. 

The census this year, which takes place on 6 October 2016, asks whether the children are of foreign nationality, or born overseas. 

In some cases, schools are asking parents to produce passports, according to Jen Persson, a supporter of the group Against Borders for Children.

And after a Conservative party conference in which the home secretary asked companies to list foreign workers, this has made some families nervous. In 2015, the then-education secretary Nicky Morgan ordered an investigation into mass migration in state schools.

Persson told The Staggers: "The concern is really the potential use of the data by immigration enforcement, which seems well founded because the Home Office have had access to the database since 2012." There are also concerns about data being shared with third parties. 

The schools census occurs three times a year, and charts pupils' attendance, educational needs and use of free school meals. Parents may receive texts asking them to fill out the online form. 

Parents have the right to withold the data, but according to Persson many schools have not passed on this information: "Schools have misunderstood the guidance. It is not clear what is required and what is optional." Even if parents do refuse, it seems information can be passed on. In Brighton and Hove, a Freedom of Information request revealed that teachers were told they could "ascribe" ethnicity to pupils in certain circumstances

A Department for Education spokesman said: "This data will help ensure our children receive the best possible education. It will be used to help us better understand how children with, for example, English as an additional language perform in terms of their broader education, and to assess and monitor the scale and impact immigration may be having on the schools sector.

“We are always willing to listen to concerns though and have offered to meet with the organisations who drafted the letter to provide reassurance about how the data will be used.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.