All posts by jenpersson

“Michal Serzycki” Data Protection Award 2021

It is a privilege to be a joint-recipient in the fourth year of the “Michal Serzycki” Data Protection Award, and I thank the Data Protection Authority in Poland (UODO) for the recognition of work for the benefit of promoting data protection values and the right to privacy.

I appreciate the award in particular as the founder of an NGO, and the indirect acknowledgement of the value of NGOs to be able to contribute to public policy, including openness towards international perspectives, standards, the importance of working together, and our role in holding the actions of state authorities and power to account, under the rule of law.

The award is shared with Mrs Barbara Gradkowska, Director of the Special School and Educational Center in Zamość, whose work in Poland has been central to the initiative, Your Data — Your Concern, an educational Poland-wide programme for schools that is supported and recognized by the UODO. It offers support to teachers in vocational training centres, primary, middle and high schools related to personal data protection and the right to privacy in education.

And it is also shared with Mr Maciej Gawronski, Polish legal advisor and authority in data protection, information technology, cloud computing, cybersecurity, intellectual property and business law.

The UODO has long been a proactive advocate in the schools’ sector in Poland for the protection of children’s data rights, including recent enforcement after finding the processing of children’s biometric data using fingerprint readers unlawful, when using a school canteen and ensuring destruction of pupil data obtained unlawfully.

In the rush to remote learning in 2020 in response to school closures in COVID-19, the UODO warmly received our collective international call for action, a letter in which over thirty organisations worldwide called on policy makers, data protection authorities and technology providers, to take action, and encouraged international collaboration to protect children around the world during the rapid adoption of digital educational technologies (“edTech”). The UODO issued statements and a guide on school IT security and data protection.

In September 2020, I worked with their Data Protection Office at a distance, in delivering a seminar for teachers, on remote education.

The award also acknowledges my part in the development of the Guidelines on Children’s Data Protection in an Education Setting adopted in November 2020, working in collaboration with country representatives at the Council of Europe Committee for Convention 108, as well as with observers, and the Committee’s incredible staff.

2020 was a difficult year for people around the world under COVID-19 to uphold human rights and hold the space to push back on encroachmentespecially for NGOs, and in community struggles from the Black Lives Matter movement to environmental action to  UK students on the streets of London to protest algorithmic unfairness. In Poland the direction of travel is to reduce women’s rights in particular. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has been accused of politicising the constitutional tribunal and using it to push through its own agenda on abortion, and the government appears set on undermining the rule of law creating a ‘chilling effect’ for judges. The women of Poland are again showing the world, what it means and what it can cost to lose progress made.

In England at defenddigitalme, we are waiting to hear later this month, what our national Department for Education will do to better protect millions of children’s rights, in the management of national pupil records, after our Data Protection regulator, the ICO’s audit and intervention. Among other sensitive content, the National Pupil Database holds sexual orientation data on almost 3.2 million students’ named records, and religious belief on 3.7 million.

defenddigitalme is a call to action to protect children’s rights to privacy across the education sector in England, and beyond. Data protection has a role to playwithin the broader rule of law to protect and uphold the right to privacy, to prevent state interference in private and family life, and in the protection of the full range of human rights necessary in a democratic society. Fundamental human rights must be universally protected to foster human flourishing, to protect the personal dignity and freedoms of every individual, to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedoms.


The award was announced at the conference,Real personal data protection in remote reality,” organized by the Personal Data Protection Office UODO, as part of the celebration of the 15th Data Protection Day on 28th January, 2021 with an award ceremony held on its eve in Warsaw.

Is the Online Harms ‘Dream Ticket’ a British Green Dam?

The legal duty in Online Harms government proposals is still vague.

For some it may sound like the ‘“dream ticket”.  A framework of censorship to be decided by companies, enabled through the IWF and the government in Online Safety laws. And ‘free’ to all. What companies are already doing today in surveillance of all outgoing  and *incoming* communications that is unlawful, made lawful. Literally, the nanny state could decide, what content will be blocked, if, “such software should “absolutely” be pre-installed on all devices for children at point of sale and “…people could run it the other side to measure what people are doing as far as uploading content.”

From Parliamentary discussion it was clear that the government will mandate platforms, “to use automated technology…, including, where proportionate, on private channels,” even when services are encrypted.

No problem, others might say, there’s an app for that. “It doesn’t matter what program the user is typing in, or how it’s encrypted.”

But it was less clear in the consultation outcome updated yesterday,  that closed in July 2019 and still says, “we are consulting on definitions of private communications, and what measures should apply to these services.” (4.8)

Might government really be planning to impose or incentivise surveillance on [children’s] mobile phones at the point of sale in the UK? This same ‘dream ticket’ company was the only company  mentioned by the Secretary of State for DCMS yesterday. After all, it is feasible. In 2009 Chinese state media reported that the Green Dam Youth Escort service, was only installed in 20 million computers in internet cafes and schools.

If government thinks it would have support for such proposals, it  may have overlooked the outrage that people feel about companies prying on our everyday lives. Or has already forgotten the summer 2020 student protests over the ‘mutant algorithm’.

There is conversely already incidental harm and opaque error rates from the profiling UK children’s behaviour while monitoring their online and offline computer activity, logged against thousands of words in opaque keyword libraries. School safeguarding services are already routine in England, and are piggy backed by the Prevent programme. Don’t forget one third of referrals to Prevent come from education and over 70% are not followed through with action.  Your child and mine might already be labelled with ‘extremism’, ‘terrorism’, ‘suicide’ or ‘cyberbullying’ or have had their photos taken by the webcam of their device an unlimited number of times, thanks to some of these ‘safeguarding’ software and services, and the child and parents never know.

Other things that were not clear yesterday, but will matter, is if the ‘harm’ of the Online Harms proposals will be measured by intent, or measured by the response to it. What is harm or hate or not, is contested across different groups online, and weaponised, at scale.

The wording of the Law Commission consultation closing on Friday on communications offences also matters, and asks about intention to harm a likely audience, where harm is defined as any non-trivial emotional, psychological, or physical harm, but should not require proof of actual harm. This together with any changes on hate crime and on intimate images in effect proposes changes on ‘what’ can be said, how, and ‘to whom’ and what is considered ‘harmful’ or ‘hateful’ conduct.  It will undoubtedly have massive implications for the digital environment once all joined up. It matters when ‘culture wars’ online, can catch children in the cross fire.

I’ve been thinking about all this, against the backdrop of the Bell v Tavistock [2020] EWHC 3274 judgement with implications from the consideration of psychological harm, children’s evolving capacity, the right to be heard and their autonomy, a case where a parent involved reportedly has not even told their own child.

We each have a right to respect for our private life, our family life, our home and our correspondence. Children are rights holders in their own right. Yet it appears the government and current changes in lawmaking may soon interfere with that right in a number of ways, while children are used at the heart of everyone’s defence.

In order to find that an interference is “necessary in a democratic society” any interference with rights and freedoms should be necessary and proportionate for each individual, not some sort of ‘collective’ harm that permits a rolling, collective interference.

Will the proposed outcomes prevent children from exercising their views or full range of rights, and restrict online participation? There may be a chilling effect on speech. There is in schools. Sadly these effects may well be welcomed by those who believe not only that some rights are more equal than others, but some children, more than others.

We’ll have to wait for more details. As another MP in debate noted yesterday, “The Secretary of State rightly focused on children, but this is about more than children; it is about the very status of our society ….”

The National Data Strategy. Rewiring State power.

The National Data Strategy is not about “the data”.  People need to stop thinking of data only as abstract information, or even as personal data when it comes to national policy. Administrative data is the knowledge about the workings of the interactions between the public and the State and about us as people. It is the story of selected life events. To the State it is business intelligence. What resources are used, where, by whom and who costs The Treasury how much? How any government is permitted to govern that,  shapes our relationship with the State and the nature of the governance we get of people, of public services. How much power we cede to the State or retain at national, local, and individual levels over our communities and our lives matters.  Any change in National Data Strategy is about the rewiring of state power, and we need to understand its terms and conditions very, very carefully.


What government wants

“It’s not to say we don’t see privacy and data protection as not important,” said Phil Earl, Deputy Director at DCMS, in the panel discussion hosted by techUK as part of Birmingham Tech Week, exploring the UK Government’s recently released National Data Strategy.

I sighed so loudly I was glad to be on mute. The first of many big watch outs for the messaging around the National Data Strategy was already touted in the text, as “the high watermark of data use set during the pandemic.” In response to COVID “a few of the perceived barriers seem to have melted away,” said Earl, and saw this reduced state of data protections is desirable beyond the pandemic. “Can we maintain that level of collaboration and willingness to share data?” he asked.

Data protection laws are at their heart protections for people, not data, and if any government is seeking to reduce those protections for people we should pay attention to messaging very carefully.

This positioning fails to recognise that data protection law is more permissive in exceptional circumstances such as pandemics, with a recognition by default that the tests in law of necessity and proportionality are different from usual, and are time bound to the pandemic.

“What’s the equivalent? How do we empower people to feel that that greater good [felt in the pandemic] outweighs their legitimate concerns about data being shared,” he said.” The whole trust thing is something that must be constantly maintained,” but you may hear between the lines,  ‘preferably on our [government] terms.’

The idea that the public is ignorant about data, is often repeated and still wrong. The same old mantras resurfaced. If people can make more informed decisions, understand “the benefits”, then the government can influence their judgments, trusting us to “make the decisions that we want them to make [to agree to data re-use].”

If *this* is the government set course (again), then watch out.

What people want

In fact when asked, the majority of people both who are willing and less willing to have data about them reused, generally want the same things. Safeguards,  opt in to re use, restricted distribution, and protections for redress and against misuse strengthened in legislation.

Read Doteveryone’s public attitudes work. Or the Ipsos MORI polls or work by Wellcome. (see below). Or even the care.data summaries.

The red lines in the report from workshops carried out across different regions of the UK for the 2013 ADRN (about reuse of deidentified linked public admin datasets by qualified researchers in safe settings), remain valid today, in particular with relation to:

  • Creating large databases containing many variables/data from a large number of public sector sources

  • Allowing administrative data to be linked with business data

  • Linking of passively collected administrative data, in particular geo-location data

“All of the above were seen as having potential privacy implications or allowing the possibility of reidentification of individuals within datasets. The other ‘red-line’ for some participants was allowing researchers for private companies to access data, either to deliver a public service or in order to make profit. Trust in private companies’ motivations were low.”

The BT spokesperson on the panel, went on to say that their own survey showed 85% of people say their data is important to them, and 75% believe they have too little control.

Mr. Earl was absolutely correct in saying it puts the onus on government to be transparent and show how data will be used. But we hear *nothing* about concrete plans to deliver that. What does that look like? Saying it three times out loud, doesn’t make it real.

What government does

Government needs to embrace the fact it can only get data right, if it does the right thing. That includes upholding the law. This includes examining its own purposes and practice.

The Department for Education has been giving away 15 million people’s personal confidential data since 2012 and never told them. They knew this. They chose to ignore it. And on top of that, didn’t inform people who were in school since then, that Mr Gove changed the law. So now over 21 million people’s pupil records are being given away to comapnies and other third parties, for use in ways we do not expect, and is misused too. In 2015, more secret data sharing began, with the Home Office. And another pilot in 2018 with the DWP.  And in 2019, sharing with the police.

Promises on government data policy transparency right now are worth less than zero. What matters now is government actions. Trust will be based on what you do, not what you say. Is the government trustworthy?

After the summary findings published by the ICO of their compulsory audit of the Department for Education,  the question now is what will the Department and government do to address the 139 recommendations for improvement, with over 60% classified as urgent or high priority. Is the government intentional about change?

What will government do?

So I had a question for the panel: Is the government serious about its point in the strategy, 7.1.2 “Our data regime should empower individuals and groups to control and understand how their data is used.”

I didn’t get an answer.

I want to know if the government is prepared to build the necessary infrastructure to enable that understanding and control?

  • Enhance and build the physical infrastructure:
      • access to personal reports what data is held and how it is used.
      • management controls and communications over reuse [opt-in to meet the necessary permissions of legitimate interests or consent as lawful basis for further data processing, conditions for sensitive data processing, or at very least opt-out to respect objections].
      • secure systems (not just excel, and WannaCry resistant)
  • Enable the necessary transparency tools and create demonstrable accountability through registers of algorithms and data sharing with oversight functions and routes for redress.
  • Empower staff with the necessary human skills at all levels in the public sector on the laws around data that do not just consist of a sharepoint on GDPR — what about privacy law, communications law, equality and discrimination laws among others?
  • Empower the public with the controls they want to have their rights respected.
  • Examine toxic policy that drives bad data collection and re-use.

Public admin data is all about people

Coming soon is the publication of an Integrated Review, we were told, how ‘data and security’ and other joined up issues will feature.

A risk of this conflation is seeing the national data strategy as another dry review about data as ‘a thing’, or its management.

It should be about people. The people who our public admin data are about. The people that want access to it. The people making the policy decisions. And its human infrastructure. The controls on power about purposes of the data reuse, data governance is all about the roles and responsibilties of people and the laws that oversee them and require human accountability.

These NDS strategy missions, and pillars and aims are all about “the data”.

For a national data strategy to be realised and to thrive in all of our wide ranging societal ‘data’ interests,  it cannot be all about data as a commodity.  Or all about government wants. Or seen through the lens only of research. Allow that, and they divide and conquer. It must be founded on  building a social contract between government and the public in a digital environment, and setting the expectations of these multi-purpose relationships, at national, and local levels.

For a forward thinking data strategy truly building something in the long term public interest, it is  about understanding ‘wider public need‘. The purpose of ‘the data’ and its strategy, is as much about the purpose of government behind it. Data is personal. But when used to make decisions it also business intelligence. How does the government make the business of governing work, through data?

Any national data strategy does not sit in a vacuum of other policy and public experience of government either.  If Manchester‘s second lockdown funding treatment is seen as the expectations of how local needs get trumped by national wants, and people’s wishes will be steam rollered, then a national approach will not win support. A long list of bad government engagement over recent months, is a poor foundation and you don’t fix that by talking about “the benefits”.

Will government listen?

Edgenuity, the U.S. based school assessment system using AI for marking, made the news this summer, when parents found it could be gamed by simply packing essays with all the right keywords, but respondents didn’t need to make sense or give accurate answers. To be received well and get a good grade, they were expected simply to tell the system the words ‘it wanted to hear’.

If the teachers were looking at the responses, they didn’t care,” one student said.

Will the government actually look at responses to the National Data Strategy and care about getting it right? Not just care about getting what they want? Or about what commercial actors will do with it?

Government wanted to and changed the law on education admin data in 2012 and got it wrong. Education data alone is a sin bin of bad habits and complete lack of public and professional engagement, before even starting to address data quality and accuracy and backwards looking policy built on bad historic data.

The Commercial department do not have appropriate controls in place to protect personal data being processed on behalf of the DfE by data processors.” (ICO audit of the DfE , 2020)

Gambling companies ended up misusing learner records.

Government wanted data from one Department to be collected for the purposes of another and got it wrong. People boycotted the collection until it was killed off.

Government changed the law on Higher Education in 2017 and got it wrong.  Now  third parties pass around named equality monitoring records like religion, sexual orientation, and disability and it is stored forever on named national pupil records. The Department for Education (DfE) now holds sexual orientation data on almost 3.2 million, and religious belief data on 3.7 million people.

What could possibly go wrong?

If the current path is any indicator, this government is little interested in local power, or people, and certainly not in our human rights. They are interested in centralised power. We should be very cautious about giving that all away to the State on its own terms.


 

The national data strategy consultation is open for submissions until

Samples of public engagement on data reuse

 

 

What happens when a Regulator doesn’t regulate

The news is full of the exam Regulator Ofqual right now, since yesterday’s A-Level results came out. In the outcry over the clear algorithmic injustice and inexplicable data-driven results, the data regulator, the Information Commissioner (ICO) remains silent.**

I have been told the Regulators worked together from early on in the process. So did this collaboration help or hinder the thousands of students and children whose rights the Regulators are supposed to work to protect?

I have my doubts, and here is why.

My child’s named national school records

On April 29, 2015 I wrote to the Department for Education (DfE) to ask for a copy of the data that they held about my eldest child in the National Pupil Database (NPD). A so-called Subject Access Request. The DfE responded on 12 May 2015 and refused, claiming an exemption, section 33(4) of the Data Protection Act 1998. In effect saying it was a research-only, not operational database.

Despite being a parent of three children in state education in England, there was no clear information available to me what the government held in this database about my children. Building on what others in civil society had done before, I began research into what data was held. From where it was sourced and how often it was collected. Who the DfE gave the data to. For what purposes. How long it was kept. And I discovered a growing database of over 20 million individuals, of identifying and sensitive personal data, that is given away to commercial companies, charities, think tanks and press without suppression of small numbers and is never destroyed.

My children’s confidential records that I entrusted to school, and much more information they create that I never see, is given away for commercial purposes and I don’t get told which companies have it, why, or have any control over it? What about my Right to Object? I had imagined a school would only share statistics with third parties without parents’ knowledge or being asked. Well that’s nothing compared with what the Department does with it all next.

My 2015 complaint to the ICO

On October 6, 2015 I made a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (the ICO). Admittedly, I was more naïve and less well informed than I am today, but the facts were clear.

Their response in April 2016, was to accept the DfE position, “at the stage at which this data forms part of its evidence base for certain purposes, it has been anonymised, aggregated and is statistical in nature.  Therefore, for the purposes of the DPA, at the stage at which the DfE use NPD data for such purposes, it no longer constitutes personal data in any event.”

The ICO was “satisfied that the DfE met the criteria needed to rely on the exemption contained at section 33(4) of the DPA” and was justified in not fulfilling my request.

And “in relation to your concerns about the NPD and the adequacy of the privacy notice provided by the DfE, in broad terms, we consider it likely that this complies with the relevant data protection principles of the DPA.”

The ICO claimed “the processing does not cause any substantial damage or distress to individuals and that any results of the research/statistics are not made available in a form which identifies data subjects.”

The ICO kept its eyes wide shut

In secret in July 2015, the DfE had started to supply the Home Office with the matched personal details of children from the NPD, including home address. The Home Office requested this for purposes including to further the Hostile Environment. (15.1.2) which I only discovered in detail one year to the day after my ICO complaint, on October 6, 2016. The rest is public.

Had the ICO investigated the uses of national pupil data a year earlier in 2015-16, might it have prevented this ongoing gross misuse of children’s personal data and public and professional trust?

The ICO made no public statement despite widespread media coverage throughout 2016 and legal action on the expansion of the data, and intended use of children’s  nationality and country-of-birth.

Identifying and sensitive not aggregated and  statistical

Since 2012 the DfE has given away the sensitive and identifying personal confidential data of over 23 million people without their knowledge, in over 1600 unique requests, that are not anonymous.

In 2015 there was no Data Protection Impact Assessment. The Department had done zero audits of data users after sending them identifying pupil data. There was no ethics process or paperwork.

Today in England pupil data are less protected than across the rest of the UK. The NPD is being used as a source for creating a parent polling panel. Onward data sharing is opaque but some companies continue to receive named data and have done so for many years. It is a linked dataset with over 25 different collections, and includes highly sensitive children’s social care data, is frequently expanded, its content scope grows increasiningly sensitive, facilitates linkage to external datasets including children at risk and for policing,  and has been used in criminology interventions which did harm and told children they were involved because they were “the worst kids.” Data has been given to journalists and a tutoring company. It has been sought after by Americans even if not (yet?) given to them.

Is the ICO a help or hindrance to protect children and young people’s data rights?

Five years ago the ICO told me the named records in the national pupil database was not personal data. Five years on, my legal team and I await a final regulatory response from the ICO that I hope will protect the human rights of my children, the millions currently in education in England whose data are actively collected, the millions aged 18-37 affected whose data were collected 1996-2012 but who don’t know, and those to come.

It has come at significant personal and legal costs and I welcome any support. It must be fixed. The question is whether the information rights Regulator is a help or hindrance?

If the ICO is working with organisations that have broken the law, or that plan dubious or unethical data processing, why is the Regulator collaborating to enable processing and showing them how to smooth off the edges rather than preventing harm and protecting rights? Can the ICO be both a friend and independent enforcer?

Why does it decline to take up complaints on behalf of parents that similarly affect millions of children in the UK and worldwide about companies that claim to use AI on their website but tell the ICO it’s just computing really. Or why has it given a green light on the reuse of religion and ethnicity from schools without consent, and tells the organisation they can later process it to make it anonymous, and keep all the personal data indefinitely?

I am angry at their inaction, but not as angry as thousands of children and their parents who know they have been let down by  data-led decisions this month, that to them are inexplicable.

Thousands of children who are caught up in the algorithmic A-Level debacle and will be in next week’s GCSE processes believe they have been unfairly treated through the use of their personal data and have no clear route of redress. Where is the voice of the Regulator? What harm should they have prevented but didn’t through inaction?

What is the point of all the press and posturing on an Age Appropriate Code of Practice which goes beyond the scope of data protection, if the ICO cannot or will not enforce on its core remit or support the public it is supposed to serve?


Update: This post was published at midday on Friday Aust 14. In the late afternoon the ICO did post a short statement on the A-levels crisis, and also wrote to me regarding one of these cases via email.

Damage that may last a generation.

Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week until 24th May, 2020. The theme for 2020 is ‘kindness’.

So let’s not comment on the former Education Ministers and MPs, the great-and-the-good and the-recently-resigned, involved in the Mail’s continued hatchet job on teachers. They probably believe that they are standing up for vulnerable children when they talk about the “damage that may last a generation“. Yet the evidence of much of their voting, and policy design to-date, suggests it’s much more about getting people back to work.

Of course there are massive implications for children in families unable to work or living with the stress of financial insecurity on top of limited home schooling. But policy makers should be honest about the return to school as an economic lever, not use children’s vulnerability to pressure professionals to return to full-school early, or make up statistics to up the stakes.

The rush to get back to full-school for the youngest of primary age pupils has been met with understandable resistance, and too few practical facts. Going back to a school in COVID-19 measures for very young children, will take tonnes of adjustment, to the virus, to seeing friends they cannot properly play with, to grief and stress.

When it comes to COVID-19 risk, many countries with similar population density to the UK, locked down earlier and tighter and now have lower rates of community transmission than we do. Or compare where didn’t, Sweden, but that has a population density of 24 people per Km2. The population density for the United Kingdom is 274 people per square kilometre. In Italy, with 201 inhabitants per square kilometre,  you needed a permission slip to leave home.

And that’s leaving aside the unknowns on COVID-19 immunity, or identifying it, or the lack of testing offer to over a million children under-5,  the very group expected to be those who return first to full-school.

Children have rights to education, and to life, survival and development. But the blanket target groups and target date, don’t appear to take the Best Interests of The Child, for each child, into account at all. ‘Won’t someone think of the children?’ may never have been more apt.

Parenting while poor is highly political

What’s the messaging in the debate, even leaving media extremes aside?

The sweeping assumption by many commentators that ‘the poorest children will have learned nothing‘ (BBC Newsnight, May 19) is unfair, but this blind acceptance as fact, a politicisation of parenting while poor, conflated with poor parenting, enables the claimed concern for their vulnerability to pass without question.

Many of these most vulnerable children were not receiving full time education *before* the pandemic but look at how it is told.

It would be more honest in discussion or publishing ‘statistics’ around the growing gap expected if children are out of school, to consider what the ‘excess’ gap will be and why. (Just like measuring excess deaths, not only those people who died and had been tested for COVID-19.) Thousands of vulnerable children were out of school already, due tobudget decisions that had left local authorities unable to fulfil their legal obligation to provide education.’

Pupil Referral Units were labeled “a scandal” in 2012 and only last year the constant “gangs at the gates” narrative was highly political.

“The St Giles Trust research provided more soundbites. Pupils involved in “county lines” are in pupil referral units (PRUs), often doing only an hour each day, and rarely returning into mainstream education.’ (Steve Howell, Schools Week)

Nearly ten years on, there is still lack of adequate support for children in Alternative Provision and a destructive narrative of “us versus them”.

Source: @sarahkendzior

The value of being in school

Schools have remained open for children of key workers and more than half a million pupils labeled as ‘vulnerable’, which includes those classified as “children in need” as well as 270,000 children with an education, health and care (EHC) plan for special educational needs.  Not all of those are ‘at risk’ of domestic violence or abuse or neglect. The reasons why there is low turnout, tend to be conflated.

Assumptions abound about the importance of formal education and the best place for those very young children in Early Years (age 2-5) to be in school at all, despite conflicting UK evidence, that is thin on the ground. Research for the NFER [the same organisation running the upcoming Baseline Test of four year olds still due to begin this year] (Sharp, 2002), found:

“there would appear to be no compelling educational rationale for a statutory school age of five or for the practice of admitting four-year-olds to school reception classes.” And “a late start appears to have no adverse effect on children’s progress.”

Later research from 2008, from the IoE, Research Report No. DCSF-RR061 (Sylva et al, 2008) commissioned before the then ‘new’ UK Government took office in 2010, suggested better outcomes for children who are in excellent Early Years provision, but also pointed out that more often the most vulnerable are not those in the best of provision.

“quality appears to be especially important for disadvantaged groups.”

What will provision quality be like, under Coronavirus measures? How much stress-free space and time for learning will be left at all?

The questions we should be asking are a) What has been learned for the second wave and b) Assume by May 2021 nothing changes. What would ideal schooling look like, and how do we get there?

Attainment is not the only gap

While it is not compulsory to be in any form of education, including home education, till your fifth birthday in England, most children start school at age 4 and turn five in the course of the year. It is one of the youngest starts in Europe.  Many hundreds of thousands of children start formal education in the UK even younger from age 2 or three. Yet is it truly better for children? We are way down the Pisa attainment scores, or comparable regional measures.  There has been little change in those outcomes in 13 years, except to find that our children are measured as being progressively less happy.

“As Education Datalab points out, the PISA 2018 cohort started school around 2008, so their period at school not only lines up with the age of austerity and government cuts, but with the “significant reforms” to GCSEs introduced by Michael Gove while he was Education Secretary.”  [source: Schools Week, 2019]

There’s no doubt that some of the harmful economic effects of Brexit will be attributed to the effects of the pandemic. Similarly, many of the outcomes of ten years of policy that have increased  children’s vulnerability and attainment gap, pre-COVID-19, will no doubt be conflated with harms from this crisis in the next few years.

The risk of the acceptance of misattributing this gap in outcomes, is a willingness to adopt misguided solutions, and deny accountability.

Children’s vulnerability

Many experts in children’s needs, have been in their jobs much longer than most MPs and have told them for years the harm their policies are doing to the very children, those voices now claim to want to protect. Will the MPs look at that evidence and act on it?

More than a third of babies are living below the poverty line in the UK. The common thread in many [UK] families’ lives, as Helen Barnard, deputy director for policy and partnerships for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation described in 2019, is a rising tide of work poverty sweeping across the country.” Now the Coronavirus is hitting those families harder too. The ONS found that in England the death rate  in the most deprived areas is 118% higher than in the least deprived.

Charities speaking out this week, said that in the decade since 2010, local authority spending on early intervention services dropped by 46% but has risen on late intervention, from 58% to 78% of spending on children and young people’s services over the same period.

If those advocating for a return to school, for a month before the summer, really want to reduce children’s vulnerability, they might sort out CAMHs for simultaneous support of the return to school, and address those areas in which government must first do no harm. Fix these things that increase the “damage that may last a generation“.


Case studies in damage that may last

Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020’

Source: Children’s Commissoner (April 2020)

“These regulations make significant temporary changes to the protections given in law to some of the most vulnerable children in the country – those living in care.” ” I would like to see all the regulations revoked, as I do not believe that there is sufficient justification to introduce them. This crisis must not remove protections from extremely vulnerable children, particularly as they are even more vulnerable at this time. As an urgent priority it is essential that the most concerning changes detailed above are reversed.”

CAMHS: Mental health support

Source: Local Government Association CAMHS Facts and Figures

“Specialist services are turning away one in four of the children referred to them by their GPs or teachers for treatment. More than 338,000 children were referred to CAMHS in 2017, but less than a third received treatment within the year. Around 75 per cent of young people experiencing a mental health problem are forced to wait so long their condition gets worse or are unable to access any treatment at all.”

“Only 6.7 per cent of mental health spending goes to children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). Government funding for the Early Intervention Grant has been cut by almost £500 million since 2013. It is projected to drop by a further £183 million by 2020.

“Public health funding, which funds school nurses and public mental health services, has been reduced by £600 million from 2015/16 to 2019/20.”

Child benefit two-child limit

Source: May 5, Child Poverty Action Group
“You could not design a policy better to increase child poverty than this one.” source: HC51 House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee
The two-child limit Third Report of Session 2019 (PDF, 1 MB)

“Around sixty thousand families forced to claim universal credit since mid-March because of COVID-19 will discover that they will not get the support their family needs because of the controversial ‘two-child policy”.

Housing benefit

Source: the Poverty and Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

“The cuts [introduced from 2010 to the 2012 budget] in housing benefit will adversely affect some of the most disadvantaged groups in society and are likely to lead to an increase in homelessness, warns the homeless charity Crisis.”

Legal Aid for all children

Source: The Children’s Society, Cut Off From Justice, 2017

“The enactment of the Legal Aid, Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) has had widespread consequences for the provision of legal aid in the UK. One key feature of the new scheme, of particular importance to The Children’s Society, were the changes made to the eligibility criteria around legal aid for immigration cases. These changes saw unaccompanied and separated children removed from scope for legal aid unless their claim is for asylum, or if they have been identified as victims of child trafficking.”

“To fulfill its obligations under the UNCRC, the Government should reinstate legal aid for all unaccompanied and separated migrant children in matters of immigration by bringing it back within ‘scope’ under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Separated and unaccompanied children are super-vulnerable.”

Library services

Source: CIPFA’s annual library survey 2018

“the number of public libraries and paid staff fall every year since 2010, with spending reduced by 12% in Britain in the last four years.” “We can view libraries as a bit of a canary in the coal mine for what is happening across the local government sector…” “There really needs to be some honest conversations about the direction of travel of our councils and what their role is, as the funding gap will continue to exacerbate these issues.”

No recourse to public funds: FSM and more

source: NRPF Network
“No recourse to public funds (NRPF) is a condition imposed on someone due to their immigration status. Section 115 Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 states that a person will have ‘no recourse to public funds’ if they are ‘subject to immigration control’.”

“children only get the opportunity to apply for free school meals if their parents already receive certain benefits. This means that families who cannot access these benefits– because they have what is known as “no recourse to public funds” as a part of their immigration status– are left out from free school meal provision in England.”

Sure Start

Source: Institute for Fiscal Studies (2019)

“the reduction in hospitalisations at ages 5–11 saves the NHS approximately £5 million, about 0.4% of average annual spending on Sure Start. But the types of hospitalisations avoided – especially those for injuries – also have big lifetime costs both for the individual and the public purse”.

Youth Services

Source: Barnardo’s (2019) New research draws link between youth service cuts and rising knife crime.

“Figures obtained by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Knife Crime show the average council has cut real-terms spending on youth services by 40% over the past three years. Some local authorities have reduced their spending – which funds services such as youth clubs and youth workers – by 91%.”

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said:

“These figures are alarming but sadly unsurprising. Taking away youth workers and safe spaces in the community contributes to a ‘poverty of hope’ among young people who see little or no chance of a positive future.”

A fresh start for edtech? Maybe. But I wouldn’t start from here.

In 1924 the Hibbert Journal published what is accepted as the first printed copy of a well-known joke.

A genial Irishman, cutting peat in the wilds of Connemara, was once asked by a pedestrian Englishman to direct him on his way to Letterfrack. With the wonted enthusiasm of his race the Irishman flung himself into the problem and, taking the wayfarer to the top of a hill commanding a wide prospect of bogs, lakes, and mountains, proceeded to give him, with more eloquence than precision, a copious account of the route to be taken. He then concluded as follows: ‘Tis the divil’s own country, sorr, to find your way in. But a gintleman with a face like your honour’s can’t miss the road; though, if it was meself that was going to Letterfrack, faith, I wouldn’t start from here.’

Ty Goddard asked some sensible questions in TES on April 4 on the UK edTech strategy, under the overarching question, ‘A fresh start for edtech? Maybe. But the road is bumpy.’

We’d hope so, since he’s on the DfE edTech board and aims “to accelerate the edtech sector in Britain and globally.”

“The questions now being asked are whether you can protect learning at a time of national emergency? Can you truly connect educators working from home with their pupils?”

and he rightly noted that,

“One problem schools are now attempting to overcome is that many lack the infrastructure, experience and training to use digital resources to support a wholesale move to online teaching at short notice.”

He calls for “bold investment and co-ordination across Whitehall led by Downing Street to really set a sprint towards super-fast connectivity to schools, pupils’ homes and investment in actual devices for students. The Department for Education, too, has done much to think through our recent national edtech strategy – now it needs to own and explain it.”

But the own and explain it, is the same problematic starting point as care-data had in the NHS in 2014. And we know how that went.

The edTech demands and drive for the UK are not a communications issue. Nor are they simply problems of infrastructure, or the age-old idea of shipping suitable tech at scale. The ‘fresh start’ isn’t going to be what anyone wants, least of all the edTech evangelists if we start from where they are.

Demonstrators of certain programmes, platforms, and products to promote to others and drive adoption, is ‘the divil’s own country‘.

The edTech UK strategy in effect avoided online learning, and the reasons for that were not public knowledge but likely well founded. They’re mostly unevidenced and often any available research comes from the companies themselves or their partners and promoter think tanks and related, or self interested bodies.

I’ve not seen anyone yet talk about disadvantage and deprivation from not issuing course curriculum standard text books to every child.  Why on earth can secondary schools not afford to give each child their text book home? A darn sight cheaper than tech, independent of data costs and a guide to exactly what the exams will demand. Should we not seek to champion the most appropriate and equitable learning solutions, in addition to, rather than exclusively, the digital ones? GSCE children I support(ed) in foreign languages each improved once they had written materials. Getting out Chromebooks by contrast, simply interfered in the process, and wasted valuable classroom time.

Technology can deliver most vital communications, at speed and scale. It can support admin, expand learning and level the playing field through accessible tools. But done wrongly, it makes things worse than without.

Its procurement must assess any potential harmful consequences and safeguard against them, and not accept short term benefits, at the cost of long term harm. It should be safe, fair, and transparent.

“Responsible technology is no longer a nice thing to do to look good, it’s becoming a fundamental pillar of corporate business models. In a post-Cambridge Analytica world, consumers are demanding better technology and more transparency. Companies that do create those services are the ones that will have a better, brighter future.”

Kriti Sharma, VP of AI, Sage, (Doteveryone 2019 event, Responsible Technology)

The hype of ‘edTech’ achievement in the classroom so far, far outweighs the evidence of delivery. Neil Selwyn, Professor in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia, writing in the Impact magazine of the Chartered College in January 2019 summed up:

“the impacts of technology use on teaching and learning remain uncertain. Andreas Schleicher – the OECD’s director of education – caused some upset in 2015 when suggesting that ICT has negligible impact on classrooms. Yet he was simply voicing what many teachers have long known: good technology use in education is very tricky to pin down.”

That won’t stop edTech being part of the mainstay of the UK export strategy post-Brexit whenever that may now be. But let’s be very clear that if the Department wants to be a world leader it shouldn’t promote products whose founders were last most notably interviewing fellow students online about their porn preferences. Or who are based in offshore organisations with very odd financial structures. Do your due diligence. Work with reputable people and organisations and build a trustworthy network of trustworthy products framed by the rule of law, that is rights’ respecting and appropriate to children. But don’t start with the products.

Above all build a strategy for education, for administrative support, for respecting rights, and for teaching in which tools that may or may not be technology-based add value; but don’t start with the product promotion.

To date the aims are to serve two masters. Our children’s education, and the UK edTech export strategy. You can if you’re prepared to do the proper groundwork, but it’s lacking right now. What is certain, is that if you get it wrong for UK children, the other will inevitably fail.

Covid19 must not be misused to direct our national edTech strategy. I wouldn’t start from here isn’t a joke, it’s a national call for change.

Here’s ten reasons where, why, and how to start instead.

1. The national edTech strategy board should start by demonstrating what it wants to see from others, with full transparency of its members, aims, terms of reference, partners and meeting minutes. There should be no need FOI to ask for them. There are much more sensitive subjects that operate in the open. It unfortunately emulates other DfE strategy, and the UK edTech network which has an in-crowd, and long standing controlling members. Both would be the richer for transparency and openness.

2. Stop bigging up the ‘Big Three’  and doing their market monopolisation for them, unless you want people to see you simply as promoting your friends’-on-the-board/foundation/ethics committee’s products. Yes,” many [educational settings] lack the infrastructure” but that should never mean encouraging ownership and delivery by only closed commercial partners.  That is the route to losing control of your state education curriculum, staff training  and (e)quality,  its delivery, risk management, data,  and cost control.

3. Start with designing for fairness in public sector systems. Minimum acceptable ethical standards could be framed around for example, accessibility, design, and restrictions on commercial exploitation and in-product advertising. This needs to be in place first, before fitting products ‘on top’ of an existing unfair, and imbalanced system, to avoid embedding disadvantage and the commodification of children in education, even further.

5. Accessibility and Internet access is a social justice issue.  Again as we’ve argued for at defenddigitalme for some time, these come *before* you promote products on top of the delivery systems:

  • Accessibility standards for all products used in state education should be defined and made compulsory in procurement processes, to ensure access for all and reduce digital exclusion.
  • All schools must be able to connect to high-speed broadband services to ensure equality of access and participation in the educational, economic, cultural and social opportunities of the world wide web.
  • Ensure a substantial improvement in support available to public and school library networks. CILIP has pointed to CIPFA figures of a net reduction of 178 libraries in England between 2009-10 and 2014-15.

6. Core national education infrastructure must be put on the national risk register, as we’ve argued for previously at defenddigitalme (see 6.6). Dependence such as MS Office 365, major cashless payment systems, and Google for Education all need assessed and to be part of the assessment for regular and exceptional delivery of education. We currently operate in the dark. And it should be unthinkable that companies get seats at the national UK edTech strategy table without full transparency over questions on their practices, policy and meeting the rule of law.

7. Shift the power balance back to schools and families, where they can trust an approved procurement route, and children and legal guardians can trust school staff to only be working with suppliers that are not overstepping the boundaries of lawful processing. Incorporate (1) the Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)7 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on Guidelines to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the child in the digital environment  and (2) respect the UN General comment No. 16 (2013) on State obligations regarding the impact of the business sector on children’s rights, across the education and wider public sector.

8. Start with teacher training. Why on earth is the national strategy all about products, when it should be starting with people?

  • Introduce data protection and pupil privacy into basic teacher training, to support a rights-respecting environment in policy and practice, using edTech and broader data processing, to give staff the clarity, consistency and confidence in applying the high standards they need.
  • Ensure ongoing training is available and accessible to all staff for continuous professional development.
  • A focus on people, nor products, will deliver fundamental basics needed for good tech use.

9. Safe data by design and default. I’m tired of hearing from CEOs of companies that claim to be social entrepreneurs, or non-profit, or teachers who’ve designed apps, how well intentioned their products are. Show me instead. Meet the requirements of the rule of law.

  • Local systems must stop shipping out (often sensitive) pupil data at scale and speed to companies, and instead stay in control of terms and conditions, data purposes, and ban product developments for example.
  • Companies must stop using pupil data for their own purposes for profit, or to make inferences about autism or dyslexia for example, if that’s not your stated product aim, it’s likely unlawful.
  • Stop national pupil data distribution for third-party reuse. Start safe access instead.  And get the Home Office out of education.
  • Establish fair and independent oversight mechanisms of national pupil data, so that transparency and trust are consistently maintained across the public sector, and throughout the chain of data use, from collection, to the end of its life cycle, including annual data usage reports for each child.

10. We need a law that works for children’s rights. Develop a legislative framework for the fair use of a child’s digital footprint from the classroom for direct educational and administrative purposes at local level, including commercial acceptable use policies.  Build the national edTech strategy with a rights’ based framework and lawful basis in an Education and Privacy Act. Without this, you are building on sand.

If schools close, what happens to children who need free school meals?

Here’s some collated questions, views and ideas from teachers, and eduTwitter and my thoughts on what could be done by government and schools. What is missing? What else is possible?

[Last edit: March 31, 11am, working document*, input welcome].

*Today’s guidance states a new policy position

Our school is open over the Easter holidays and our food supplier is able to continue to provide meals for children eligible for free school meals who are not in school. Is that allowed?

“Whilst the vouchers are for term time only, if there is a local arrangement to supply food that the school and the supplier intend to continue over this period then that can be agreed and managed locally. This would need to be manageable within schools’ existing resources, as there will not be additional funding available for this purpose.

This is unacceptable. At our tiny rural primary school parents have donated hundreds of pounds of personal money in the last month to feed local families’ children alone and support school with its extra costs, this is unsustainable as many themselves are now out of work or at reduced pay. — Ministers do not appear to understand the gravity of the situation.

Not scrapping FSM eligibility criteria (as set out in 10 Actions for Government to take now, below) and allowing schools to order the vouchers they need for families, rather than only allowing schools to get vouchers to those children that meet eligibility test criteria, will mean children are starving and schools already starved of funds, will feed them because they must through volunteer support where they can, but have to do so at their own expense.

This is wrong and must be fixed. The virus and its economic effects on millions of families, do not respect a two- week school holiday. Children in families with no recourse to public funds have nothing, and now have no work — or will have to go out to work to feed their children but jeopardise their own, their families, and our community public health because the system puts them in an impossible position.

The well documented 5-week delays in Universal Credit applications, which are on a steep incline, will mean children have nothing for 5 weeks although their poverty is clear, while the eligibility ’criteria’ is met in the system.

Government must scrap eligibility tests and criteria and fund schools for every FSM they provide to any child in need, at any time.

Previous question asked:
How will the DfE know how much money a school needs in order to meet growing demand for FSM without knowing how many children at each school need FSM?

Suggested answer:
They won’t. There will be an inevitable lag. The DfE must offer schools funding as demand grows, and allow them to plan securely. Schools must be able to offer families a way to indicate need, and be able to meet it, even if not ‘eligible’ for for FSM.

Assumptions:

(1) The number of children in need of an FSM will grow over the next few weeks and months.
(2) The school census is the mechanism for telling the DfE a count of how many children are FSM eligible,  and it does not get taken next until May 21st.
(3) The January 2021 school census is the next mechanism for telling the DfE a count of how many children are FSM eligible, and taken as the basis for the count of pupil premium school funding.

Public Health England has updated its guidance for schools today. As school closures at scale may look increasingly more likely, many in civil society have called on the Government to  offer cash measures to ensure that children do not go hungry.

Health and education are both devolved issues. Who takes leadership here? It is also a question of interaction with DWP.

About 1.5 million children across the UK are currently eligible for free school meals in families living on a very low income. The precarious nature of many parents’ employment in the gig economy and service industry, will push that number higher due to the economic and health effects of the virus. Children must not experience barriers to access food and support.

Child Poverty Action Group is calling on the government to match the support it is providing to small business and boost the income of struggling families with children by increasing child benefit by £10 per week for the duration of the pandemic response, for example. This is in addition to and not instead of the actions needed on FSM. This should be step zero for the government to action.

Now is not a time for eligibility tests, conditionality or exclusion about feeding children.

    • What are the implications for eligibility, of the Budget 2020 changes in welfare criteria and coronavirus support measures?
    • How can children who become newly eligible, find out that  they are and access needed support available to them if out of school> who is responsible for approvals, and communications between families and schools if closed?
    • Many families will now be staying at home for all meals, without access to meals at work, in canteens, or staff discounts. Where supermarket shelves are empty, an increase in the number of people needing fed at home may put an additional strain on families’ supplies and budgets.

We already know,  that while 1.1 million children in English primary and secondary schools were eligible for and claiming free school meals, there were also between 2.2 million and 4.1 million children living in poverty in 2016/17, depending on the measure used. [Source: The Children’s Society.]

Table numbers* are estimated as may be have been taken on different dates and eligibility criteria vary by location.

The Government needs to do everything within its power to mitigate the effects of Coronavirus on children’s nutrition and in a sustainable solution beyond the short term. School staff across Twitter at least, seem to have plenty of ad hoc ideas going on, but there is no public guidance from the Department, at the time of writing. Local areas need empowered to support their own families based on local needs and knowledge.

Some schools are already closing. Some parents are withdrawing children as a precautionary measure. All may need support.


A. Ten things government could do quickly

1. Appoint a dedicated Local Authority central contact for
(a) families and (b) separate for school (telephone and email) — local knowledge needed to answer questions and offer support. (Note challenge D2)

2. Remove eligibility and conditionality requirements to allow all children to access FSM based on need, not current criteria. This change would remove any questions or confusion over ‘do I qualify?’ especially for families newly claiming welfare payments as part of coronavirus support measures. This may see government simply  need to treble FSM allocation, so schools can help their wider community including children not classed as eligible, but in need.

3. Make funding available now and quick to access for:

  • Breakfast club bags
  • All FSM eligible children (2-18), including infants
  • meeting need at aggregated, not individual level.

4. Emergency funding must be made accessible and quick to claim  for those families who are going to slide into poverty and become FSM eligible but may not be able to demonstrate Universal Credit eligibility for example. (Delays in UC must not delay getting FSM to a child). Schools must have discretion based on need.

5. Empower local schools to decide how to distribute this best –– as cash transfers, emergency feeding programmes, vouchers, or otherwise.

6. *Unlink FSM funding, eligibility,  and individual level pupil premium (PP) registration. [This may be a longer term issue that can be ignored for now, if not counted till the January 2021 census.] Clarify any short term, and further implications. There may be interconnected systems and implications for algorithms (at LA level) of PP system registration. Schools will need to know whether they must or must not register pupils as PP status on an individual level, or can simply meet pupils’ FSM needs.

7. Introduce a business rate relief on state schools, as afforded to private schools operating as charities.

8. The intention of any top-down imposed closures and these changes will need to be made very clear, to set staff and families and suppliers’ expectations for the potential time periods involved and allow school staff to plan capacity and funding accordingly as best they can. (Flatten the curve? Slow spread? etc)

9. Scrap the next 21 May 2020 school census day “FSM meals taken” count.

10. Give schools an extra supplies fund with flexibility, including  for unexpected additional hygiene costs and temporary staff.

And don’t forget step zero, in addition to FSM needs. Many families are soon going to be in dire straits as services and shops stop paying staff. Child Poverty Action Group is calling on the government to match the support it is providing to small business and boost the income of struggling families with children by increasing child benefit by £10 per week for the duration of the pandemic response.


B. Things schools could do

1. Appoint a dedicated school FSM questions and support contact for (a) families and (b) for other organisations who may want to refer / reach (telephone and email) with allocated school back up chain, in case of illness — local knowledge needed to answer questions and offer support.

2. ‘Cash transfers direct to individuals or households are the most effective tool in order to aid families to weather the storm (not vouchers for food aid or financial or in kind support for food aid providers including lunch clubs)‘ [Letter to Rishi Sunak MP from civil society, March 12, 2020] (Recommendation from multiple civil society orgs / charities.)

3. Schools stay open on skeleton schedule as meal collection points distributing meals from usual suppliers (cold alternatives) Schools need to best define and decide for themselves what this looks like.

4. For [rural] children on school bus routes who cannot access school, or for individuals with SEND special transport that stops, could the buses continue to run, and deliver meals to bus stop collection points (routes could need re-time tabling and contingent on safe staffing)?

5. Some schools are looking at supermarket vouchers. They will need support to be able to transfer funding from school meal suppliers if so. The least disruptive model will be to keep existing provision from current contracted suppliers. Must have flexibility.

6. Other schools are preparing food packages as a contingency to safeguard children who would not be able to access FSMs in the possible event of any future closure.

7. Contingency planning may be needed where schools plan to provide food, not cash transfers. (a) Self isolation and (b) sickness may prevent or disincentivise families receiving physical food transfers. Schools need to plan if actual food transfers becomes no longer feasible due to (a)  or (b).

8. Recognise that other partner organisations (churches, food banks, local charities, youth groups) may themselves  have reduced capacity and this may change over time. Self isolation and sickness may reduce staffing. Contingency thinking needed.


C. What is missing and questions?

    1.  Contracts between schools and supplier?
      • Force Majeure Termination Rights?
      • Safeguarding supplies: can suppliers get guaranteed / prioritised food deliveries
      • Suppliers have staff to pay etc – will they be paid for services they don’t provide if schools close?
    2. Delivery
      • What contracts are in place with suppliers?
      • Are school bus companies viable for drop off deliveries?
      • Could/should they enable children to get to school if self defeating the aims of social distancing and self isolation, or could school buses deliver meals to bus collection stops?
    3. Can schools stay open for provision
      • Assuming contingency for safe staffing: what sort of numbers of pupils / staff is viable for in-school collection of grab bags?
      • Should schools act like local food banks to support a community?
      • How will children in families that are sick or all in self isolation that cannot access the school, get support?
    4. Children’s FSM Eligibility
      • Are there implications of the Budget 2020 changes in Universal Credit and welfare criteria, for pupil premium calculations and school funding? If “UC eligible” status takes 5 weeks to reach, what does this mean for FSM? The advance payment in the 5 week must be a grant, not a loan.
      • How are newly eligible children brought into the system whilst out of school> who is responsible for the eligibility tests, and communications between families and schools if closed?
      • Destitute families with no recourse to public funds have no welfare safety net to fall back on.  “As a result, there will be an increase in homelessness, hunger and health issues amongst these families.” [Eve Dickson Project 17]
      • This matters to the DfE and the Treasury because if you are *ever* registered as FSM eligible in your period of education, you keep that eligibility for six years (ie across primary, or all of secondary school). Pupil premium is paid accordingly to schools. (Goodness knows our children’s schools need the cash, those I teach don’t even have a text book each). There are many interconnected systems and knock on implications for algorithms often at LA level, of the implications here of PP registration.
    5. The arbitrariness of taking the total number of children who eat a school meal on school census date the next Thursday 21 May 2020, as a measure of need, is likely going to be evidenced at scale. Where ‘free school meals taken’ or ‘school lunches taken’ are affected by unusual events, a day and time when the situation is regarded as normal is to be substituted. “You could use the next normal day, an earlier day in census week or the previous Thursday where that reflects the normal situation. Where other days or times are used, schools must record these for audit purposes.” [DfE school census guidance]
    6. Beyond FSM — and of secondary importance, but nonetheless  of importance for families that will now need to spend money twice in the same time period, intended for children’s lunches. Will regular school meal orders that have been pre-ordered & pre-paid by parents be fulfilled at later date?
    7. Recovery volunteers if people have had/ or not been tested but assume they have had it, can they volunteer for support?

Continue reading “If schools close, what happens to children who need free school meals?” »

Thoughts from the YEIP Event: Preventing trust.

Here’s some thoughts about the Prevent programme, after the half day I spent at the event this week, Youth Empowerment and Addressing Violent Youth Radicalisation in Europe.

It was hosted by the Youth Empowerment and Innovation Project at the University of East London, to mark the launch of the European study on violent youth radicalisation from YEIP.

Firstly, I appreciated the dynamic and interesting youth panel. Young people, themselves involved in youth work, or early researchers on a range of topics. Panelists shared their thoughts on:

  • Removal of gang databases and systemic racial targeting
  • Questions over online content takedown with the general assumption that “someone’s got to do it.”
  • The purposes of Religious Education and lack of religious understanding as cause of prejudice, discrimination, and fear.

From these connections comes trust.

Next, Simon Chambers, from the British Council, UK National Youth Agency, and Erasmus UK, talked about the programme of Erasmus Plus, under the striking sub theme, from these connections comes trust.

  • 42% of the world’s population are under 25
  • Young people understand that there are wider, underlying complex factors in this area and are disproportionately affected by conflict, economic change and environmental disaster.
  • Many young people struggle to access education and decent work.
  • Young people everywhere can feel unheard and excluded from decision-making — their experience leads to disaffection and grievance, and sometimes to conflict.

We then heard a senior Home Office presenter speak about Radicalisation: the threat, drivers and Prevent programme.

On Contest 2018 Prevent / Pursue / Protect and Prepare

What was perhaps most surprising was his statement that the programme believes there is no checklist, [but in reality there are checklists] no single profile, or conveyer belt towards radicalisation.

“This shouldn’t be seen as some sort of predictive model,” he said. “It is not accurate to say that somehow we can predict who is going to become a terrorist, because they’ve got poor education levels, or because necessarily have a deprived background.”

But he then went on to again highlight the list of identified vulnerabilities in Thomas Mair‘s life, which suggests that these characteristics are indeed seen as indicators.

When I look at the ‘safeguarding-in-school’ software that is using vulnerabilities as signals for exactly that kind of prediction of intent, the gap between theory and practice here, is deeply problematic.

One slide included Internet content take downs, and suggested 300K pieces of illegal terrorist material have been removed since February 2010. That number he later suggested are contact with CTIRU, rather than content removal defined as a particular form. (For example it isn’t clear if this is a picture, a page, or whole site). This is still somewhat unclear and there remain important open questions, given its focus  in the online harms policy and discussion.

The big gap that was not discussed and that I believe matters, is how much autonomy teachers have, for example, to make a referral. He suggested “some teachers may feel confident” to do what is needed on their own but others, “may need help” and therefore make a referral. Statistics on those decision processes are missing, and it is very likely I believe that over referral is in part as a result of fearing that non-referral, once a computer has tagged issues as Prevent related, would be seen as negligent, or not meeting the statutory Prevent duty as it applies to schools.

On the Prevent Review, he suggested that the current timeline still stands, of August 2020, even though there is currently no Reviewer. It is for Ministers to make a decision, who will replace Lord Carlile.

Safeguarding children and young people from radicalisation

Mark Chalmers of Westminster City Council., then spoke about ‘safeguarding children and young people from radicalisation.’

He started off with a profile of the local authority demographic, poverty and wealth, migrant turnover,  proportion of non-English speaking households. This of itself may seem indicative of deliberate or unconscious bias.

He suggested that Prevent is not a security response, and expects  that the policing role in Prevent will be reduced over time, as more is taken over by Local Authority staff and the public services. [Note: this seems inevitable after the changes in the 2019 Counter Terrorism Act, to enable local authorities, as well as the police, to refer persons at risk of being drawn into terrorism to local channel panels. Should this have happened at all, was not consulted on as far as I know]. This claim that Prevent is not a security response, appears different in practice, when Local Authorities refuse FOI questions on the basis of security exemptions in the FOI Act, Section 24(1).

Both speakers declined to accept my suggestion that Prevent and Channel is not consensual. Participation in the programme, they were adamant is voluntary and confidential. The reality is that children do not feel they can make a freely given informed choice, in the face of an authority and the severity of the referral.  They also do not understand where their records go to, how confidential are they really, and how long they are kept or why.

The  recently concluded legal case and lengths one individual had to go to, to remove their personal record from the Prevent national database, shows just how problematic the mistaken perception of a consensual programme by authorities is.

I knew nothing of the Prevent programme at all in 2015. I only began to hear about it once I started mapping the data flows into, across and out of the state education sector, and teachers started coming to me with stories from their schools.

I found it fascinating to hear those speak at the conference that are so embedded in the programme. They seem unable to see it objectively or able to accept others’ critical point of view as truth. It stems perhaps from the luxury of having the privilege of believing you yourself, will be unaffected by its consequences.

“Yes,” said O’Brien, “we can turn it off. We have that privilege” (1984)

There was no ground given at all for accepting that there are deep flaws in practice. That in fact ‘Prevent is having the opposite of its intended effect: by dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it’ as concluded in the 2016 report  Preventing Education: Human Rights and Countering terrorism in UK Schools by Rights Watch UK .

Mark Chalmers conclusion was to suggest perhaps Prevent is not always going to be the current form, of bolt on ‘big programme’ and instead would be just like any other form of child protection, like FGM. That would mean every public sector worker, becomes an extended arm of the Home Office policy, expected to act in counter terrorism efforts.

But the training, the nuance, the level of application of autonomy that the speakers believe exists in staff and in children is imagined. The trust between authorities and people who need shelter, safety, medical care or schooling must be upheld for the public good.

No one asked, if and how children should be seen through the lens of terrorism, extremism and radicalisation at all. No one asked if and how every child, should be able to be surveilled online by school imposed software and covert photos taken through the webcam in the name of children’s safeguarding. Or labelled in school, associated with ‘terrorist.’ What happens when that prevents trust, and who measures its harm?

smoothwall monitor dashboard with terrorist labels on child profile

[click to view larger file]

Far too little is known about who and how makes decisions about the lives of others, the criteria for defining inappropriate activity or referrals, or the opacity of decisions on online content.

What effects will the Prevent programme have on our current and future society, where everyone is expected to surveil and inform upon each other? Failure to do so, to uphold the Prevent duty, becomes civic failure.  How is curiosity and intent separated? How do we safeguard children from risk (that is not harm) and protect their childhood experiences,  their free and full development of self?

No one wants children to be caught up in activities or radicalisation into terror groups. But is this the correct way to solve it?

This comprehensive new research by the YEIP suggests otherwise. The fact that the Home Office disengaged with the project in the last year, speaks volumes.

“The research provides new evidence that by attempting to profile and predict violent youth radicalisation, we may in fact be breeding the very reasons that lead those at risk to violent acts.” (Professor Theo Gavrielides).

Current case studies of lived experience, and history also say it is mistaken. Prevent when it comes to children, and schools, needs massive reform, at very least, but those most in favour of how it works today, aren’t the ones who can be involved in its reshaping.

“Who denounced you?” said Winston.

“It was my little daughter,” said Parsons with a sort of doleful pride. “She listened at the keyhole. Heard what I was saying, and nipped off to the patrols the very next day. Pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh? I don’t bear her any grudge for it. In fact I’m proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit, anyway.” (1984).

 



The event was the launch of the European study on violent youth radicalisation from YEIP:  The project investigated the attitudes and knowledge of young Europeans, youth workers and other practitioners, while testing tools for addressing the phenomenon through positive psychology and the application of the Good Lives Model.

Its findings include that young people at risk of violent radicalisation are “managed” by the existing justice system as “risks”. This creates further alienation and division, while recidivism rates continue to spiral.

The devil craves DARPA

‘People, ideas, machines — in that order.’ This quote in that  latest blog by Dominic Cummings is spot on, but the blind spots or the deliberate scoping the blog reveals, are both just as interesting.

If you want to “figure out what characters around Putin might do”, move over Miranda. If your soul is for sale, then this might be the job for you. This isn’t anthropomorphism of Cummings, but an excuse to get in the parallels to Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Priestly.

“It will be exhausting but interesting and if you cut it you will be involved in things at the age of 21 that most people never see.”

Comments like these make people who are not of that mould, feel of less worth. Commitment comes in many forms. People with kids and caring responsibilities, may be some of your most loyal staff. You may not want them as your new PA, but you will almost certainly, not want to lose them across the board.

Some words would be wise in follow up to existing staff, the thousands of public servants we have today, after his latest post.

1. The blog is aimed at a certain kind of men. Speak to women too.

The framing of this call for staff is problematic, less for its suggested work ethic, than the structural inequalities it appears to purposely perpetuate. Despite the poke at public school bluffers. Do you want the best people around you, able to play well with others, or not?

I am disappointed that asking for “the sort of people we need to find” is designed, intentionally or not, to appeal to a certain kind of men. Even if he says it should be diverse and includes people, “like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner.'”

If Cummings is intentional about hiring the best people, then he needs to do by better by women. We already have a PM that many women would consider toxic to work around, and won’t as a result.

Some of the most brilliant, cognitively diverse, young people I know who fit these categories well, — and across the political spectrum–are themselves diverse by nature and expect their surroundings to be. They (unlike our generation), do not “babble about ‘gender identity diversity blah blah’.” Woke is not an adjective that needs explained, but a way of life. Put such people off by appearing to devalue their norms, and you’ll miss out on some potential brilliant applicants from the pool, which will already be self-selecting, excluding many who simply won’t work for you, or Boris, or Brexit blah blah. People prepared to burn out as you want them to, aren’t going to be at their best for long. And it takes a long time to recover.

‘That girl’ was the main character, and her name was Cayce Pollard.  Women know why you should say her name. Fewer women will have worked at CERN, perhaps for related reasons, compared with “the ideal candidate” described in this call.

“If you want an example of the sort of people we need to find in Britain, look at this’ he writes of C.C. Myers, with a link to, ‘On the Cover:  The World’s Fastest Man.

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett, Alexander Grothendieck, Bret Victor, von Neumann, Cialdini. Groves, Mueller, Jain, Pearl, Kay, Gibson, Grove, Makridakis, Yudkowsky, Graham and Thiel.

The *men illustrated* list, goes on and on.

What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them gives you the universe?

Not something I care to discuss over dinner either.

But women of all ages do care that our PM appears to be a cad. It matters therefore that your people be seen to work to a better standard. You want people loyal to your cause, and the public to approve, even if they don’t of your leader. Leadership goes far beyond electoral numbers and a mandate.

Women — including those that tick the skill boxes need, yet again, to look beyond the numbers and have to put up with a lot. This advertorial appeals to Peter Parker, when the future needs more of Miles Morales. Fewer people with the privilege and opportunity to work at the Large Hadron Collider, and more of those who stop Kingpin’s misuse and shut it down.

A different kind of the same kind of thing, isn’t real change. This call for something new, is far less radical than it is being portrayed as.

2. Change. Don’t forget to manage it by design.

In fact, the speculation that this is all change, hiring new people for new stuff [some of which elsewhere he has genuinely interesting ideas on, like, “decentralisation and distributed control to minimise the inevitable failures of even the best people”] doesn’t really feature here, rather it is something of a precursor. He’s starting less with building the new, and rather with let’s ‘drain the swamp’ of bureaucracy. The Washington-style of 1980’s Reagan, including, ‘let’s put in some more of our kind of people’.

His personal brand of longer-term change may not be what some of his cheerleaders think it will be, but if the outcome is the same and seen to be ‘showing these Swamp creatures the zero mercy they deserve‘, [sic] does intent matter? It does, and he needs to describe his future plans better, if he wants to have a civil service  that works well.

The biggest content gap (leaving actual policy content aside) is any appreciation of the current, and need for change management.

Training gets a mention; but new process success, depends on effectively communicating on change, and delivering training about it to all, not only those from whom you expect the most high performance. People not projects, remember?

Change management and capability transfer delivered by costly consultants, is not needed, but making it understandable not elitist, is.

  • genuinely present an understanding of the as-is,  (I get you and your org, for change *with* you, not to force change upon you)
  • communicating what the future model is going to move towards (this is why you want to change and what good looks like), and
  • a roadmap of how you expect the organisation to get there (how and when), that need not be constricted by artificial comms grids.

Because people and having their trust, are what make change work.

On top of the organisational model, *every* member of staff must know where their own path fits in, and if their role is under threat, whether training will be offered to adapt, or whether they will be made redundant. Uncertainty around this over time, is also toxic. You might not care if you lose people along the way. You might consider these the most expendable people. But if people are fearful and unhappy in your organisation, or about their own future, it will hold them back from delivering at their best, and the organisation as a result.  And your best will leave, as much as those who are not.

“How to build great teams and so on”, is not a bolt-on extra here, it is fundamental.  You can’t forget the kitchens. But changing the infrastructure alone, cannot deliver real change you want to see.

3. Communications. Neither propaganda and persuasion nor PR.

There is not such a vast difference between the business of communications as a campaign tool, and tool for control. Persuasion and propaganda. But where there may be a blind spot in the promotion of the Cialdini-six style comms, is that behavioural scientists that excel at these, will not use the kind of communication tools that either the civil service nor the country needs for the serious communications of change, beyond the immediate short term.

Five thoughts:

  1. Your comms strategy should simply be “Show the thing. Be clear. Be brief.”
  2. Communicating that failure is acceptable, is only so if it means learning from it.
  3. If policy comms plans depend on work led by people like you,  who like each other and like you, you’ll be told what you want to hear.
  4. Ditto, think tanks that think the same are not as helpful as others.
  5. And you need grit in the oyster for real change.

As an aside, for anyone having kittens about using an unofficial email to get around FOI requests and think it a conspiracy to hide internal communications, it really doesn’t work that way. Don’t panic, we know where our towel is.

4. The Devil craves DARPA. Build it with safe infrastructures.

Cumming’s long-established fetishing of technology and fascination with Moscow will be familiar to those close, or blog readers. They are also currently fashionable, again. The solution is therefore no surprise, and has been prepped in various blogs for ages. The language is familiar. But single-mindedness over this length of time, can make for short sightedness.

In the US. DARPA was set up in 1958 after the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite, with a remit to “prevent technological surprise” and pump money into “high risk, high reward” projects. (Sunday Times, Dec 28, 2019)

In  March, Cummings wrote in praise of Project Maven;

“The limiting factor for the Pentagon in deploying advanced technology to conflict in a useful time period was not new technical ideas — overcoming its own bureaucracy was harder than overcoming enemy action.”

Almost a year after that project collapsed, its most interesting feature was surely not the role of bureaucracy among tech failure. Maven was a failure not of tech, nor bureaucracy, but to align its values with the decency of its workforce. Whether the recallibration of its compass as a company is even possible, remains to be seen.

If firing staff who hold you to account against a mantra of ‘don’t be evil’ is championed, this drive for big tech values underpinning your staff thinking and action, will be less about supporting technology moonshots, than a shift to the Dark Side of capitalist surveillance.

The incessant narrative focus on man and the machine –machine learning, ⁠—the machinery of government, quantitative models and the frontiers of the science of prediction is an obsession with power. The downplay of the human in that world ⁠—is displayed in so many ways, but the most obvious is the press and political narrative of a need to devalue human rights, ⁠— and yet to succeed, tech and innovation needs an equal and equivalent counterweight, in accountability under human rights and the law, so that when systems fail people, they do not cause catastrophic harm at scale.

“Practically nobody is ever held accountable regardless of the scale of failure, you say? How do you measure your own failure? Or the failure of policy? Transparency over that, and a return to Ministerial accountability are changes I would like to see. Or how about demanding accountability for algorithms that send children to social care, of which the CEO has said his failure is only measured by a Local Authority not saving money as a result of using their system?

We must stop state systems failing children, if they are not to create a failed society.

A UK DARPA-esque, devolved hothousing for technology will fail, if you don’t shore up public trust. Both in the state and commercial sectors. An electoral mandate won’t last, nor reach beyond its scope for long. You need a social licence to have legitimacy for tech that uses public data, that is missing today. It is bone-headed and idiotic that we can’t get this right as a country.  Despite knowing how to, if government keeps avoiding doing it safely, it will come at a cost.

The Pentagon certainly cares about the implications for national security when the personal data of millions of people could be open to exploitation, blackmail or abuse.

You might of course, not care. But commercial companies will when they go under. The electorate will. Your masters might if their legacy will suffer and debate about the national good and the UK as a Life Sciences centre, all come to naught.

There was little in this blog, of the reality of what these hires should deliver beyond more tech and systems’ change. But the point is to make systems that work for people, not see more systems at work.

We could have it all, but not if you spaff our data laws up the wall.

“But the ship can’t sink.”

“She is made of iron, sir. I assure you, she can. And she will. It is a mathematical certainty.

[Attributed to Thomas Andrews, Chief Designer of the RMS Titanic.]

5. The ‘circle of competence’ needs values, not only to value skills.

It’s important and consistent behaviour that Cummings says he recognises his own weaknesses, that some decisions are beyond his ‘circle of competence’ and that he should in in effect become redundant, having brought in, “the sort of expertise supporting the PM and ministers that is needed.” Founder’s syndrome is common to organisations and politics is not exempt. But neither is the Peter principle a phenomenon particular to only the civil service.

“One of the problems with the civil service is the way in which people are shuffled such that they either do not acquire expertise or they are moved out of areas they really know to do something else.”

But so what? what’s worse, is politics has not only the Peter’s but the Dilbert principle when it comes to senior leadership. You can’t put people in positions expected to command respect when they tell others to shut up and go away. Or fire without due process. If you want orgs to function together at scale, especially beyond the current problems with silos, they need people on the ground who can work together, and have a common goal who respect those above them, and feel it is all worthwhile. Their politics don’t matter. But integrity, respect and trust do, even if they don’t matter to you personally.

I agree wholeheartedly that circles of competence matter [as I see the need to build some in education on data and edTech]. Without the appropriate infrastructure change, radical change of policy is nearly impossible. But skill is not the only competency that counts when it comes to people.

If the change you want is misaligned with people’s values, people won’t support it, no matter who you get to see it through. Something on the integrity that underpins this endeavour,  will matter to the applicants too. Most people do care how managers treat their own.

The blog was pretty clear that Cummings won’t value staff, unless their work ethic, skills and acceptance will belong to him alone to judge sufficient or not, to be “binned within weeks if you don’t fit.”

This government already knows it has treated parts of the public like that for too long. Policy has knowingly left some people behind on society’s  scrap heap, often those scored by automated systems as inadequate. Families in-work moved onto Universal Credit, feed their children from food banks for #5WeeksTooLong. The rape clause. Troubled families. Children with special educational needs battling for EHC plan recognition without which schools won’t take them, and DfE knowingly underfunding suitable Alternative Provision in education by a colossal several hundred per cent amount per place, by design.

The ‘circle of competence’ needs to recognise what happens as a result of policy, not only to place value on the skills in its delivery or see outcomes on people as inevitable or based on merit. Charlie Munger may have said, “At the end of the day – if you live long enough – most people get what they deserve.”

An awful lot of people deserve a better standard of living and human dignity than the UK affords them today. And we can’t afford not to fix it. A question for new hires: How will you contribute to doing this?

6. Remember that our civil servants, are after all, public servants.  

The real test of competence, and whether the civil service delivers for the people whom they serve, is inextricably bound with government policy. If its values, if its ethics are misguided, building a new path with or without new people, will be impossible.

The best civil servants I have worked with, have one thing in common. They have a genuine desire to make the world better. [We can disagree on what that looks like and for whom, on fraud detection, on immigration, on education, on exploitation of data mining and human rights, or the implications of the law. Their policy may bring harm, but their motivation is not malicious.] Your goal may be a ‘better’ civil service. They may be more focussed on better outcomes for people, not systems. Lose sight of that, and you put the service underpinning government, at risk. Not to bring change for good, but to destroy the very point of it.  Keep the point of a better service, focussed on the improvement for the public.

Civil servants civilly serve in the words of asked, so should we all ask Cummings to outline his thoughts on:

  • “What makes the decisions which civil servants implement legitimate?
  • Where are the boundaries of that legitimacy and how can they be detected?
  • What should civil servants do if those boundaries are reached and crossed?”

Self-destruction for its own sake, is not a compelling narrative for change, whether you say you want to control that narrative, or not.

Two hands are a lot, but many more already work in the civil service. If Cummings only works against them, he’ll succeed not in building change, but resistance.

Shifting power and sovereignty. Please don’t spaff our data laws up the wall.

Duncan Green’s book, How Change Happens reflects on how power and systems shape change, and its key theme is most timely post the General Election.

Critical junctures shake the status quo and throw all the power structures in the air.

The Sunday Times ran several post-election stories this weekend. Their common thread is about repositioning power; realigning the relationships across Whitehall departments, and with the EU.

It appears that meeting the political want, to be seen by the public to re-establish sovereignty for Britain, is going to come at a price.

The Sunday Times article suggests our privacy and data rights are likely to be high up on the list, in any post-Brexit fire sale:

“if they think we are going to be signing up to stick to their data laws and their procurement rules, that’s not going to happen”.

Whether it was simply a politically calculated statement or not, our data rights are clearly on the table in current wheeling and dealing.

Since there’s nothing in EU data protection law that is a barrier to trade doing what is safe, fair and transparent with personal data it may be simply be politically opportunistic to be seen to be doing something that was readily associated with the EU. “Let’s take back control of our cookies”, no less.

But reality is that either way the UK_GDPR is already weaker for UK residents than what is now being labelled here as EU_#GDPR.

If anything, GDPR is already too lenient to organisations and does little especially for children, to shift the power balance required to build the data infrastructures we need to use data well. The social contract for research and other things, appropriate to  ever-expanding technological capacity, is still absent in UK practice.

But instead of strengthening it, what lies ahead is expected divergence between the UK_GDPR and the EU_GDPR in future, via the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2017.

A post-Brexit majority government might pass all the law it likes to remove the ability to exercise our human rights or data rights under UK Data protection law.  Henry VIII powers adopted in the last year, allow space for top down authoritarian rule-making across many sectors. The UK government was alone among other countries when the government created its own exemption for immigration purposes in the UK Data Protection Act in 2018. That removed the ability from all of us,  to exercise rights under GDPR. It might choose to further reduce our freedom of speech, and access to the courts.

But would the harmful economic side effects be worth it?

If Britain is to become a ‘buzz of tech firms in the regions’, and since  much of tech today relies on personal data processing, then a ‘break things and move fast’ approach (yes, that way round), won’t protect  SMEs from reputational risk, or losing public trust. Divergence may in fact break many businesses. It will cause confusion and chaos, to have UK self-imposed double standards, increasing workload for many.

Weakened UK data laws for citizens, will limit and weaken UK business both in terms of their own positioning in being able to trade with others, and being able to manage trusted customer relations. Weakened UK data laws will weaken the position of UK research.

Having an accountable data protection officer can be seen as a challenge. But how much worse might challenges in court be, when you cock up handling millions of patients’ pharmaceutical records [1], or school children’s biometric data? Save nothing of the potential implications for national security [2] or politicians when lists of millions of people could be open to blackmail or abuse for a generation.

The level playing field that every company can participate in, is improved, not harmed, by good data protection law. Small businesses that moan about it, might simply never have been good at doing data well. Few significant changes have been of substance in Britain’s Data Protection laws over the last twenty years.

Data laws are neither made-up, bonkers banana-shaped standards,  nor a meaningful symbol of sovereignty.

GDPR is also far from the only law the UK must follow when it comes to data.  Privacy and other rights may be infringed unlawfully, even where data protection law is no barrier to processing. And that’s aside from ethical questions too.

There isn’t so much a reality of “their data laws”, but rather *our* data laws, good for our own protection, for firms, *and* the public good.

Policy makers who might want such changes to weaken rights, may not care, looking out for fast headlines, not slow-to-realise harms.

But if they want a legacy of having built a better infrastructure that positions the UK for tech firms, for UK research, for citizens and for the long game, then they must not spaff our data laws up the wall.


Duncan Green’s book, How Change Happens is available via Open Access.


Updated December 26, 2019 to add links to later news:

[1]   20/12/2019 The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined a London-based pharmacy £275,000 for failing to ensure the security of special category data. https://ico.org.uk/action-weve-taken/enforcement/doorstep-dispensaree-ltd-mpn/

[2] 23/12/2019 Pentagon warns military members DNA kits pose ‘personal and operational risks’ https://www.yahoo.com/news/pentagon-warns-military-members-dna-kits-pose-personal-and-operational-risks-173304318.html