THE WHOLE STORY

The 1996 Education Act provided for each school in England and Wales to return a census to the DfES. Initially the information requested from the school was limited to general, statistical data, although a series of amendments to s537 gradually increased the amount of information collected.

The last amendment (SI2000 no. 3370) which came into effect on January 18th 2001 had a dramatic effect. Suddenly, far more detailed information about each pupil was required for the first time, and schools were told to include pupils' names and postcodes alongside Unique Pupil Numbers. Click here to see the information requested by PLASC.

The amendment placed a statutory duty upon schools to supply the information - in other words, a school has to comply. Such a statutory duty also provides an 'exception' to the provisions of the Data Protection Act, which means that the consent of the pupil's parents, or the pupil if over 16, need not be sought. Normally, the supply of this type of information would require their written consent.

Head teachers expressing concern about PLASC were directed to the DfES census site where the FAQ "Isn't PLASC an invasion of pupils' privacy?" was effectively answered with: Don't worry about that - just do as you're told.

Schools have been supplied with software to enable the supply of PLASC information. According to an article in the TES (11.01.02 'The Biggest Census Ever') it is hoped that this software will ultimately capture information directly from each school's own database.

The Secretary of State for Education confirmed in a written parliamentary answer in February 2001 that the DfES was planning to introduce a 'tracking' system for all children and young people, based on information gained via the 'Pupil Level Annual Schools Census' (PLASC).

In November, a government statistics document (needs Adobe Acrobat) described a 'shared vision' of UK-wide pupil databases supplied by information from the schools census.

ARCH first heard about PLASC from an item in the BBC online news. A school governor had been fighting to bring the issue to public attention, and his persistence brought about this report, and the support of the Daily Telegraph.

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