back to article Psst: Heard the one about the National Pupil Database? Thought not

The Tories were big fans - in opposition - of labelling the then-Labour government a "database state" as it lumbered from one ID card disaster to another. But now that the Conservative Party is heading towards the mid-term point of its coalition with the Lib Dems, the notion of hoarding ever-more information about British …


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  1. DF118

    Was going to pull you up on the apparent logical leap in the first few paragraphs but, if correct about the private sector doing the anonymising, that's no logical leap at all and actually pretty scary.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      From my perspective, as a School Governor I am concerned that children can be uniquely identified by this, maybe not a name but definitely by a unique number that could lead back to them.

      At secondary school it is quite amazing the stats and size of file that follows a pupil around. Did you misbehave a little in year 7? Well the records are there when you leave the sixth form.

      There is a slippery slope argument that eventually prospective employers can have access to your records.

      While it is important to have tracking from a safeguarding and welfare point of view I question who should have access to this data. If they do have access how do they police it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Anonymise data... Phhhaaaa

        Small class of 12 children, 7 boys, 5 girls.....

        From this it is possible to narrow down and identify gender of anonymised data quite easily.

        From this point on, say by female gender it is possible to dig into the data and identify a particular female as there are only five to choose from.

        Of the five females 2 have free school meals. One has poor attendance......

        Data is never anonymised.

    2. LarsG

      There have been a number of complaints recently where a school introduced fingerprint readers for the diner queue. Rather than using money or a card to pay for you meal, you use a fingerprint.

      Of course the machine 'does not' record finger prints, though it must contain a database of them many parents are concerned about data protection issues. The system was introduced without a consultation. It would be quite easy for the police or local authority to get access to it simply by requesting it through a court order.

      The danger is that like the DNA data base many innocent young people can find themselves on the system simply because the police have been having a trawl.

      But hey if you have nothing to hide? As they say.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        My school used fingerprint readers to take out books from the library. Numerous times I asked staff there "are you recording fingerprints?" Which they replied "no we are just generating a unique number for you"

        E.G A serialised fingerprint...

        We live in a scary world now and out kids don't understand the implications

      2. gkroog

        Having or not having something to hide depends on what legislation is in place. Things become illegal that used to be legal. It just depends on what agendas are in play in government.

  2. wobbly1
    Big Brother

    OK but can we have a trial first using data about MPs to make sure the security is robust?

  3. Beanzy

    We are obliged by law to send our children to school and there is no opt-out from the collection of data on our children. We are now expected to allow this to be harvested with no opt-out for the child at any stage in the process. The current practices of data gathering in education are a mockery of the Data Protection Act. Now the government want to commercialise this with no attempt to allow opt-outs or protection those coerced by the system.

    1. Mark 65

      Also, I'm interested in knowing whether the Government only holds this data for state schools or independents etc as well and what data is actually held?

      I believe there is a country out there that has a law stating that such data about you belongs to you and hence this sort of thing is not possible.

      How does this square with the European data laws, specifically:

      "Any state interference with a person's privacy is only acceptable for the Court if three conditions are fulfilled:

      The interference is in accordance with the law

      The interference pursues a legitimate goal

      The interference is necessary in a democratic society"


      "The directive contains a number of key principles with which member states must comply. Anyone processing personal data must comply with the eight enforceable principles of good practice.[6] They state that the data must be:

      Fairly and lawfully processed.

      Processed for limited purposes.

      Adequate, relevant and not excessive.


      Kept no longer than necessary.

      Processed in accordance with the data subject's rights.


      Transferred only to countries with adequate protection."

    2. Nick Gisburne


      Actually the legal obligation is that a child must be provided with an education. There is no legal requirement that the education must be provided by sending the child to a school. Education is compulsory. School is optional.

  4. ed2020

    This is lawful?!

    If this is legal then there is something very, very wrong with our data protection laws.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: This is lawful?!

      You've missed the point. These are the people who make our laws. They can make it legal, if they choose. And they are proposing to do so.

      Pirate icon, because if the pirate party opposed this kind of abuse then I might vote for them.

  5. James Gosling

    In my experience...

    I once found a USB stick lying on the floor that contained a schools entire database system, student and staff records, the lot. Schools do not have a culture used to handling sensitive data in a digital age. I also seriously worry about the motives behind some of these ideas. The absolute icing on the cake is Michael Gove himself, an arrogant man who listens to no one, accepts no criticism and has such an air of self importance its frankly unbelievable.

    1. Data Mangler
      Thumb Down

      Re: In my experience...

      Please don't tar all schools with the same brush. While some are as you describe, most are very conscious of data protection issues and conscientious in looking after their data. As data manger at a large secondary school, I keep a *very* tight rein, I assure you.

      1. wobbly1

        Re: In my experience...

        The problem is once the data is out of your control , it's protection is as good as the weakest or most corrupt link.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: In my experience...

          "The problem is once the data is out of your control , it's protection is as good as the weakest or most corrupt link."

          Indeed, and as our esteemed parliamentarians have adequately demonstrated over recent years, corruption is top down.

          Irrespective of anonymisation all I can think to say is, 'What an absolute fucking disgrace. Is this country so financially bankrupt that it must monetise state held child specific data, and in doing so equally demonstrate that it is also ethically - if not morally - bankrupt?' </rant>

          Michael Gove wins 'Wanker of the Week', hands down.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: In my experience...

        > I keep a *very* tight rein, I assure you.

        *You* might do. It's just a shame you have to trust everyone else as well.

        And how do we trust your judgement anyway?

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    Once information *is* collected its use and storage are *only* down a question of policy.

    And policies can *change*.

    Schools keep files on pupils but how many *knew* this is structured as a *national* student database?

    Thumbs down for this. I think Michael Gove is now in the running for my (unofficial) "Data Pimp of the Year" award.

    1. Citizen Kaned

      Re: Once information *is* collected its use and storage are *only* down a question of policy.

      let me guess... some greedy fat sponging bastard will get a nice cut from the private sector for this information too?

      1. BorkedAgain
        Thumb Down

        Re: Once information *is* collected its use and storage are *only* down a question of policy.

        I wouldn't call Gove fat exactly, but yeah, I'd guess so too.

        No thanks. Where's the "Opt out" button?

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Once information *is* collected its use and storage are *only* down a question of policy.

      Data Pimp. I think we have a good new term.... Data Pimping. Let's get that into Wikipedia quick.

  7. Citizen Kaned

    i wonder...

    if this is so the tories can groom our children more effectively? characteristics such as uncaring parents maybe that mean the kids are an easy target and won't be believed when more tory MPs touch them up?

    i hate the idea that my kids info can be sold on, obviously leaked as usual and end up all over the internet.

    gov keeps on proving they can't be trusted with our information! i wouldn't trust government to run my lovefilm movie list let alone information on my child!

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: i wonder...

      "if this is so the tories can groom our children more effectively?"

      Don't be silly. As the North Wales scandal demonstrated why waste time on grooming whey you outsource the work and have them "to go."

      "gov keeps on proving they can't be trusted with our information! i wouldn't trust government to run my lovefilm movie list let alone information on my child!"

      No need to ask, no need to know still sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Both provide quite a lot of information about you and (outside of their *specific* uses) neither should be anyone else's business.

      1. LarsG

        Re: i wonder...

        Yes it looks like the Tories are masters of deviant behaviours, stemming from their Public Schools no doubt.

        However Labour are catching up not so much with deviant behaviours but fraudulent, stemming from the 'loophole' of being able to buy a house on expenses and then renting it out to a fellow MP who them claims housing expenses for renting, while at the same time renting his house out to the first MP for the same purpose.

        If they had used their brains like this while in power the UK would be the richest country in the world.

        So at the next election we have a choice between deviants and the devious.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    "Minister hopes to 'maximise the value' of kiddie data 'resource'"

    Those words, bearing in mind the current still-hot story, just make me shiver.

    If protection of children is paramount then it makes no sense whatsoever to even collect this data in a central place, let alone to relax the rules on who can gain access to it.

    If there's one thing that the MPs should have learned from the Savile experience it is that predators are everywhere, including amongst them.

    My children have grown beyond this threat, but I'll still give my two-pennorth to the consultation.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: "Minister hopes to 'maximise the value' of kiddie data 'resource'"

      "My children have grown beyond this threat,"

      Unless they've left school (lets see the computerised social work database NuLabor wanted was going to retain "children" till they turned 25 and be accessible to the police) I would not be too sure about that.

      There's a predator for every age group.

      "but I'll still give my two-pennorth to the consultation."

      Possibly the *most* constructive thing you can do. But keep it focused and reasoned.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Minister hopes to 'maximise the value' of kiddie data 'resource'"

        My children are adults now, so certain threats are no longer an issue, but of course they may have children, so it is still an issue - either for me or for them.

        I agree about the consultation. I don't see any point in ranting/insulting submissions - I try to provide a reasoned logical argument when I contribute.

        Mind you, I now realise that this applies to England only. I've tried to see what's happened to the Welsh equivalent of the pupil database, but the WAG site is particularly unhelpful.

    2. Daggersedge

      Re: "Minister hopes to 'maximise the value' of kiddie data 'resource'"

      No, predators are NOT everywhere. If you believe the scare stories put out by the tabloid press and the child abuse industry, then you are part of the problem.

      Why do you think this collection of data exists in the first place? Because too many people believe that 'predators are everywhere', that's why. They call for something to be done. If only data had been collected and the right people had looked at it then (name the latest scare story) could have been prevented.

      The solution is not to collect more data. The solution is not to prevent the data, once collected, from falling into the hands of commercial interests, nor to prevent it from being held centrally. The solution is to STOP collecting data.

      The solution, as well, is to stop funding dysfunctional families, because that's where most abuse takes place. Stop giving benefits to 'single' mothers.

      Stop seeding distrust between adults and children. Most adults wouldn't dream of doing anything to a child, but everyone in Britain is now treated as if they were paedophiles unless they are cleared by some check. Stop all checks like this. They are a useless bit of security theatre; they prevent nothing.

      Stop trawling the past for people who want to 'come forward' about 'abuse' that happened, twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred years ago that has left them 'traumatised for life'. There should be a statute of limitations. No-one ever should be put in the situation where he has to defend himself against charges of things that happened years in the past, where it is just one person's word against another. Before anyone says it, what, you are going to disbelieve the victims? I'll point out here that they are not 'victims', but accusers and that is all they are. They should have no more rights than any other accuser. It should be for the prosecution to prove that anything happened, not for some stupid attention-seeking idiot to open his, or more likely, her mouth and scream 'abuse'. This isn't justice. This isn't the rule of law.

      As well, stop redefining 'paedophilia'. A paedophile is someone attracted to pre-pubescent children, that is, NOT to someone attracted to those who have passed through puberty. It is NOT someone who may, even by accident, looked at a picture that someone else deems to be 'sexual' of something, even a cartoon, that may look to be below the age of 18. It Is NOT someone who may have a camera and have pointed it vaguely in the direction of a place where children might be. It is NOT whatever the latest scare story wants it to be.

      Above all, kill off the tabloid press. It wouldn't be that hard: hit them where it hurts, that is, hit their advertising. Refuse to do business with companies that advertise in these rags. If the government had any backbone, it would refuse to give out contracts to any company that has advertised, say, in the last 6 months in these rags, and make it part of the contract that they keep their advertising money away from them.

      All these are things that Britain, as a society should do. It won't happen, though. The clowns that pass leaders are too much in thrall to the tabloid press. They are too afraid of the headlines. They are too stupid to see that viewing all adults and potential paedophiles DECREASES, not increases, the protection of children. The people of Britain, as well, are too stupid to stand up against it. They would rather believe scare stories than use their brains. Bah. Britain gets the databases - and their misuse - that it deserves.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Daggersedge - Re: "Minister hopes to 'maximise the value' of kiddie data 'resource'"

        Well, I guess I sympathise with most of your points. Certainly it is true that we are being bounced into stupid solutions to problems that aren't as great as they are portrayed, and I definitely agree that the result where all adults could be seen as potential paedophiles is very damaging.

        When I say that these people are 'everywhere' I don't mean to say that the country is full of them - I just mean that such people can be found in all walks of life. The fact that someone has a high social position, be it as a priest, MP, Doctor, Rock Star, DJ or whatever does not mean that they can be trusted any more than anyone else.

        And that means that any move to allow information held on pupils (and I agree that there shouldn't be much anyway) to be seen by a wider audience will inevitably make it available to the wrong sort of people.

  9. Magister
    Big Brother

    Welcome to the world of 1984

    I'm convinced that it's not the actually politicans; most of them are just too insular to even consider most of the stupid ideas that they seem to come up with.

    For some time, I have been of the opinion that all of these ideas are actually being pimped by a group of the senior mandarins in Whitehall. I'm still not sure if they are originating these plans or if lobbying groups are persuading them to put the plans before the political masters. Because the civil servants don't change when the politiicans change, they just wait a bit and then put forward the same bloody stupid ideas.

    Perhaps it is time for a root and branch clear out of the whole damn system; clearly, we can no longer trust any of them any longer.

    I think that we need to have a pitchfork and flaming branch icon. Big Brother will have to do for now

  10. Velv

    Just because the MPs change doesn't mean the people who make the policies change.

    The Civil Service carries on regardless on most of the business of running the country, and the politicians are really just voiceboxes that give vague indications of how the country should be run - a general direction as opposed to the nitty gritty.

    Anyone who thinks the Tories, Labour, LibDems, Greens, UKIP, etc actually have any real say in how the country is run are clearly misguided.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "not ignored" .NEQ. "Done properly"

    "[Gove] stressed that confidentiality and security would not be ignored if such a legislative overhaul does take place".

    They won't be ignored - they'll be bungled, as always. Not that people like Gove could tell the difference.

  12. JimmyPage Silver badge

    Given the current climate, this is easily stopped with two words:

    "Jimmy Savile"

    should torpaedo it


    That would be the same DfE

    ....that splurged the personal details of people responding to a consultation on Parental Internet Controls for the world+dog to see?

    Resulting in nothing more than a mild ticking off from the lazy incompetents at the ICO Data Protection Racket.

    Note; that's how seriously DfE + ICO take protection of personal information....

    "ICO: Education ministry BROKE the Data Protection Act"

    Posted in Government, 19th October 2012 06:29 GMT

  14. Crisp

    Wont someone think of the children?

    By not collecting every piece of data available on them?

  15. Richard IV

    Legitimate and fruitful areas for further research

    "For example, we have had to reject requests to use the data for analysis on sexual exploitation, the impact on the environment of school transport, and demographic modelling, all of which seem to be legitimate and fruitful areas for further research."

    And which needed the pupil database how, exactly? Granted, they are legitimate areas of research, but is the full on albeit anonymised dataset really the appropriate level at which access should be given? Certainly the latter two examples of rejections sound as though they could be done entirely through school-level aggregations.

    The creepiness in our version of the database state is not so much in the amount of data, but in the breadth of people given unfiltered access to it. Pretty much all of the unencrypted data lost away from the office stories seem to have involved inappropriately granular information being analysed in the likes of Excel in the hope that something "useful" will be found. I'd be a lot happier if the government put some work into a standard framework for data querying at the appropriate granularity and scope (ie exactly the information required and no more) rather than keep extending nigh on unfettered access to people who don't really need it.

  16. RosslynDad

    Not All Blighty, Thank Goodness

    Minor but important point for those of us in Caledonia: your comment about "children across Blighty" doesn't apply - Mr Gove doesn't get to play here, and we have our own information protection.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No such thing as anonymised data...

    ... or at least, no such thing as anonymised data for any meaningfully rich data set.

    For instance, sure you can strip out people's names. But much of the (perceived) value from such data sets relates to geography, so you want a postcode, or at least a partial postcode. But some partial postcodes don't cover sufficiently large numbers of people - so if I've got a data set with a partial postcode and information about someone's date-of-birth (simple age in years is of little use to someone analysing the data), gender and school, I will be able to identify many, many people.

    If the data set is rich enough, it's is usually easy enough to identify particular individuals from relatively unique 'events' (e.g. reported in one's local newspaper for instance) and from there you get all the data about that individual.

    It is all too easy to question whether given a particular record in a supposedly anonymised data set, one can identify the actual individual. But that's the wrong question and the wrong way around. One should be asking that given an actual individual (and with sufficient but limited knowledge of that individual) whether one can find them in the data set - and repeat that question for multiple actual individuals. If you can find a single actual individual who you can identify in the data set, then it's not sufficiently anonymised.

    That brings me back to where I started... a sufficiently anonymised data set is typically of no use to anyone unless it's purely statistical in nature, containing for instance, summarised counts at a sufficient high enough level and without any ability to cross-reference from one summarised data set to another.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: No such thing as anonymised data...

      ... or at least, no such thing as anonymised data for any meaningfully rich data set.

      Exactly. Like when AOL published a whole raft of "anonymised" data on their users. It didn't take long at all for clever people to trawl that data and link it to specific users. There were a lot of red faces around after that debacle.

  18. Christoph

    Third party anonymising

    If the complete data is handed out to various third parties for anonymising then there WILL be leaks.

    Some of them will make mistakes in the anonymising. Some will leak the original data.

    Any politician who doesn't realise this but still tries to release the data should be sacked on the spot for incompetency.

  19. David Pollard

    Leave those kids alone

    A decade or more ago there had been academic studies setting out to predict which children were most likely to become criminals as they grew older. A range of factors was analysed, with records of truancy etc., but also included were such details as whether they had been late for a doctor's or dentist's appointment.

    The RYOGENS project (Reducing Youth Offending Generic National Solution) turned the rationale around somewhat, in the face of obvious criticism, to argue that a private sector variant of the programme was actually being established to protect children and was in their own interest.

    This blog above has some details. A search will easily show up more aspects of the Child Database. Some of the people creating these systems really do seem to think they will benefit children, without realising that it's the human resources that are crucial. And if the human resources are available to help children when help is needed then there isn't much need for the database.

  20. Jay Zelos

    I used to work in this area for Norfolk County Council. From memory, we had very strict rules on what could and could not be used and (in theory) water tight contracts with suppliers of educational resources. However, I can recall from my time that education are considered a special case under UK data protection law and are exempt from most of the normal rules. Giving that data to third parties for non-educational use would be somewhat different though and ought to require parental consent.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Giving that data to third parties for non-educational use would be somewhat different though and ought to require parental consent

      And any parent who refused would automaticaly be targetted as "having something to hide"

  21. gkroog

    Hopefully they're serious about protecting this data properly...

    ...But I do think this is quite a serious concern. Not just about the data falling into the wrong hands, but about the hands that currently holding it. They seem very eager to make money out of it. Hopefully the Pound symbols in their vision aren't large enough to cloud their view of their stated commitment to safeguard this information. They will need to hold the applicants for such data to very high standards of security, under pain of very severe penalties. We are talking about CHILDREN, and Britain will be in a sadder state than some think if they let ill come to them trying to make money off of data collected about them.

    1. JohnMurray

      Re: Hopefully they're serious about protecting this data properly...

      It's much more likely that they, and the senior civil servants, are looking to make shed-loads of money by lining-up juicy jobs from this.

  22. Nigel 11


    The data could be anonymized. Names, addresses, day of birth and second halves of postcodes blanked out. For doing genuine statistical research, this would matter not one iota.

    If it's not anonymized, what we have is a catalogue for paedophiles to choose their victims from.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Don't know about anyone else....

    ....but I have already written an email objecting to this proposal to my MP (junior minister, so he's not allowed to actually respond with anything useful) and I will be completing a response to the consultation in the most excoriating terms as well.

    I have a pair of late-teenagers who are still in this system and I don't want any of it leaked to anyone who wants to do anything with it, let alone profit from it.

  24. Karhea

    Yes, it will be safe

    Safe... As were the "posture" pictures of a number of American students.

    I find it very hard to comprehend why so few people understand that any collected data sets will be used in negative contexts later. Later might be minutes or decades, but the end result would always be the same.

    Hail to the the free countries of the world: Uganda, Russia, Chile... Because they can't even if they wanted. Even in Russia it would be very easy to stay below the e-intel radar for any normal person.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Deja vu

    So the Tor-Lies (sorry, Tories) are bringing back the ContactPoint child database? who would have thunk?

  26. JohnMurray

    the private sector already has access

    But then I thought about Capita.......

    "The acquisition will enhance Capita’s vision to deliver an integrated database for children’s services departments which will hold a single record for each child from birth to adulthood"

    "The combined solution will mean that data can be entered on a child once and then viewed by all authorised personnel in any service, saving a great deal of time and eliminating the duplication of data entry"

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I never knew there was a National Pupil Database. Oh dear, how on earth did this happen?

    I wonder if I can have my children's details removed from it.

  28. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Gove "Your children's details safe in my hands."

    I don't think so.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting data they store and want to share...

    I think I will have to make a data protection request for my son's data...

    I was quite clear at NOT selecting any ethnicity or religion, as they don't NEED that information.

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