Committee (4th Day) (Continued)
97D: Clause 48, page 41, line 26, at end insert “gender, and ethnicity,”
Member’s explanatory statement
Inserted section 436C relates to the content of children not in school registers. This amendment is to ensure that data on the ethnicity and gender of such children is recorded adequately so that disparities can be kept under review.
My Lords, I welcome the long-overdue register proposals, which are a tribute to the persistence of my noble friend Lord Soley. I also commend the Department for Education’s Schools Bill fact sheet, which sets out the rationale calmly and comprehensively. Of course, with any new system there are adjustments that we can consider, but it will be a huge improvement to have registers for all the reasons my noble friend Lord Soley enumerated in the previous group and for the large proportion of Gypsy and Traveller children who have dropped out of secondary education because they feel it is not a place where they can thrive and some of whose parents struggle to educate them. Then there are those children who are not being educated at all, except by gangs and county lines—an increasing number, according to the police. Registers will be vital here.
In moving Amendment 97D, I shall also speak to Amendment 109A in this group. I am grateful for the support of my expert noble friend Lord Knight of Weymouth, even if he is only here in spirit. The point of adding gender and ethnicity in Amendment 97D is to ensure that the full facts of drop-out from school are captured in the knowledge that local authorities have of what is happening to the children in their area. There are disproportionate numbers of children from some ethnicities who abandon school and even, among a few communities, a tendency to withdraw girls, particularly from secondary school. The reasons can include prejudice and bullying, particularly evident in the case of Gypsy and Traveller children; misunderstanding and ignorance of cultural norms; and lack of positive liaison with parents. Unless the size of these problems is known, and they must be known on a national basis from each local authority, factually and quantitatively, remedies are unlikely to be tailored to the cause.
Amendment 109A respects the Department for Education’s own data protection and audit report of February 2020 concerning the safeguarding of data. Although the information officer’s conclusions in this report apply to the department itself, they are equally relevant to local authorities whose procedures vary from area to area in their competency in safeguarding data. I hope for a positive response from the Minister and, indeed, from your Lordships. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely.
My Lords, before I speak to the amendments in this group, I wish to ask the Minister a question about her contribution at the end of the previous group. She said that it was inappropriate for Peers to refer to the word “criminalisation” because it was wrong. I used it when I spoke because parents are already writing to me and to other Peers with their concerns. These are the words that they are already using. They are already alarmed and worried because Clause 50, under new Section 436Q, “Offence of failure to comply with school attendance order”, states:
“A person … convicted of an offence under this section in respect of the failure, may be found guilty of an offence under this section again if the failure continues”
and in new subsection (8):
“A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale, or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 51 weeks, or both.”
Can the Minister explain why that is not a criminal conviction? If that is the case, the word “criminalise”—for very few parents, we hope—would be right, and I think that is what the Government seek.
Amendment 97D from the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, proposes the addition of gender and ethnicity to the register, and I support that. Her work with the Roma and Traveller community shows that we always need to remember the children of those communities, who often end up out of school through no fault of their own and are often the children having the toughest lives. We need to make sure that we can identify them to provide the support needed.
I have also signed my noble friend Lord Storey’s Amendment 102, which proposes that a register of children not in school should list the reason why they are not in school. I will not repeat the comments I made on the two previous groups, but would say that it is vital that those in authority—in local authorities and prosecuting authorities—are reminded at every turn why a child may not be in school. Without that reason listed on the register, it would be too easy to miss, and it may not be obvious to the key personnel who need to look at the register.
I now turn to data. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for proposing how we group some of our discussions on Part 3 but, inevitably, data seems to be running through every group. In both previous groups, other Peers spoke about data issues. I want to go back to the principle of why the Government want to publish this data.
I do not think any of us disagrees that it should be collected, but my concern is that the phrase I seem to recall being used on the day the Secretary of State launched the idea of attendance orders and the register was “similar to the electoral register”, but it does not exactly say in the Bill what will be published; nor does it say who will have access to this highly sensitive and personal data. I ask the Minister: is there any other form of public register in this country that lists the names and addresses of children or their parents? Is that information available? The Bill talks about how long the data needs to be held and, from what I can see, it will be held for long after children have left the school system. If data is held, it should be deleted once the child reaches 18, unless that is because the Government want to track their future lives. If that is the case, Parliament needs to know.
The Minister may be somewhat frustrated that noble Lords are proposing to increase the data collected, but we want to ensure that the collection is of the appropriate data best to help the children, as we have discussed on previous groups. I want reassurance on exactly what will be published. In my view, only pseudonymised data should be published, and that at local authority level. Otherwise, with a very small number of children on the register, it will be all too easy to backtrack and find out where they live. It is not appropriate for families’ private information to be published and, as I said on the previous group, a high percentage of children out of school have SEND, are on free school meals or are from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
The Bill says in Clause 48, in new Section 436C(2):
“A register under section 436B may also contain any other information the local authority consider appropriate.”
New Section 436C(3) states:
“Regulations may, in relation to a register under section 436B, make provision about … (c) access to and publication of the register”.
We keep saying, on different parts of the Bill, that it is not ready to be enacted, is not going to work and is not fit for purpose. It seems completely inappropriate for the House to approve this part of the Bill without any notion of what personal information may be included or what will be published, or who will have access to that information. These are Henry VIII powers gone mad. As long as only the relevant staff, who will have to comply with GDPR, will see the raw data, a child’s personal information can be collected. Can the Minister reassure me that this is the case and, if it is not and is as printed in the Bill at the moment, can she please provide the House with a justification for why the Government are taking these very strong steps?
My Lords, Amendment 98 in this group is in my name. I will also speak to Amendments 106, 107, 110, 113 and 114, and to support my noble friend Lord Storey on Amendment 103. I think we all need to try to speak as briefly as possible if we are not to have a totally hideous day on Wednesday, when we will be expected to finish Committee on the Bill.
All these amendments are at the request of home educators. Amendment 98 reflects that home educating may be undertaken by a single parent; the other may be estranged or simply not interested in the education of the child. Requests for the name and address of each parent may not be appropriate, and the alternative wording proposed—
“the parent or parents responsible for the education of the child”—
is much more relevant.
My noble friend Lord Storey will be proposing Amendment 103, but I recognise the value of a unique pupil number in ensuring that children can be identified as being secure and educated.
Amendment 106 reflects the concerns of home educators that all sorts of irrelevant information will be requested of them, so inserting “relevance” is important. Again, this follows on from some of the words of my noble friend Lady Brinton. This is also reflected in Amendment 107, where what the local authority may “consider appropriate” may not be universally appropriate. We do not need those two lines.
In Amendment 110, there is concern about the register being published, with too much information being put into the public domain. We want “publication” to be deleted, because this is not necessary.
Amendments 113 and 114 would both insert “reasonably”. Once again, the concern for all sorts of information to be requested and recorded surely needs justifying in some way.
The home educators are very concerned about the Bill. They have sent me rafts of material, which they consolidated into amendments. I have tried to reflect this. We are naturally concerned about those who claim to home educate but are using it as a cover to abuse, indoctrinate or otherwise do damage to children. However, we are also aware of the amazing work that most home educators do and wish to ensure that they are not unduly disadvantaged by the Bill.
My Lords, I am going to speak briefly as well, for several reasons: first, because I want to get home tonight; secondly, because I am cold; and, thirdly, because I quite agree that we do not want a terrible day on Wednesday.
Part of the fallacy on this children not in school register is the idea that local authorities do not already have the information about children who are not in school, but that is not true. For the most invisible children, who have had no contact with any service at all, of course it might apply; otherwise, the truth is that local authorities have a great deal of information about almost every child, whether they attend a school or not. Instead of adding yet more data collection, there should be an overhaul of how local authorities collect and process this data, and perhaps some sort of universality about it. That overhaul should be made in a code of practice, as set out in my Amendment 171S.
I have three other amendments in this group, which are basically probing because I feel that the legislation just does not have the detail that we need to understand exactly what it is going to do. Turning to the new registration requirements, I think the Bill really ought to be clearer about what information must be provided by home-educating parents to the local authority. We are left at the moment with “other information”, which leaves a large void of worry for the parents who will have to provide this information, which could be very probing and intrusive. I would much rather see such broad wording removed altogether or made subject to being necessary and in the child’s best interests. This group contains a range of possible ways forward, but the general gist is that the Minister must convince your Lordships’ House that any of this intrusive bureaucracy is needed in the first place.
My Lords, I rise to speak to six amendments standing in my name. Amendment 101 removes from the register any requirement to record the means by which a child is being educated—something that ought to be discretionary on the parents. It replaces it with a less intrusive requirement to record only those details that demonstrate that the child is receiving a suitable education in accordance with the existing duty on parents to secure compulsory education for their child or children.
Amendment 105 curbs the local authorities’ proposed power to contain within the register
“any other information that may be prescribed”—
it is very broad and open to abuse—solely to instances where the safeguarding of the child is a concern. Surely that is the point.
Amendment 108 removes the wide-ranging power for local authorities to collect any other data they consider appropriate. Again, this is a highly undefined power that could be used to target individuals with protected characteristics, and it makes the state ever more intrusive. The amendment replaces this new subsection with a more clearly defined power permitting local authorities to collect special category data—such as ethnic origin, philosophical beliefs and sexual orientation—only in cases where the safeguarding of the child is concerned.
Amendments 111 and 112 ensure that parents are properly informed about the data collected: how it will be stored, shared, published, and when it will be deleted. These amendments are complementary to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, requiring the Secretary of State to introduce regulations related to the not in school register, which I welcome.
Finally, Amendment 127 safeguards any data collected by local authorities when directed by the Secretary of State to provide information on the register. This is done by requiring that all data is either aggregated or anonymised unless there is sufficient reason for the Secretary of State to request information relating to an individual child, the sufficient reasons listed being safeguarding concerns or issues of public safety and criminality.
At this stage, these are probing amendments. However, they reflect a number of serious concerns that many of us have about the danger that this Bill poses to home educators and the right they have to decide on a suitable education for their child. I do not oppose, in principle, a register containing information about home-schooled children in a local authority’s area. What concerns me is that the implementation of such a register as it exists within the Bill poses an attack on the principles of a free society where parents retain the discretion to educate their child in accordance with their own values. Without meaningful safeguards, this register could be the thin end of a slippery wedge resulting in Ofsted in the home: parents being mandated to teach specific things in a specific way, or being directed by law to send their children to school to receive a particular type of education.
After tabling these amendments, I decided to try and explore the rationale between the wide-ranging powers they sought to give to local authorities. I presumed there would be a vast array of evidence of why we desperately needed to have the collection of all this information. Well, the House of Lords Library kindly prepared a briefing at my request. The Government’s guidance from April 2019 stated that there was
“no proven correlation between home education and safeguarding risk.”
Furthermore, the Library was unable to provide any information on the exam success rates of children receiving an elective home education. However, from a cursory glance online, there is quite a lot of evidence to strongly suggest that children receiving EHE outperformed their counterparts in state education, so it is entirely reasonable to ask the Government why they believe local authorities should have the right to collect highly sensitive data pertaining to things that are not necessarily relevant to the child’s education. A register simply to track the number of home-educated children, at its core, is a sensible proposal. Likewise, there may be understandable instances where information beyond that needed just to register the child is required, but surely this should be the exception not the rule.
Her Majesty’s Government need to provide the rationale behind this proposal to give local authorities the right to collect to contain “any other information” they consider appropriate. This must be more specific so that there exists a clear legal boundary determining what information a local authority can collect, and for what specific reasons. Currently, this broad ambiguity allows local authorities to request entirely inappropriate special category data without good reason.
I suspect the reason is to allow local authorities to collect information as set out by Amendment 102, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. Although I do not oppose this amendment, on the principle that the parents retain the discretion and freedom of conscience to home educate their child, and that the state has no right to inquire as to their specific reasons, at least these noble Lords are honest as to the sort of data that they wish to contain within the register.
The Government appear to be hiding behind a discretion placed on the local authority to decide what information is appropriate. Amendments 105 and 108 would set fair boundaries on what information is circumstantially, rather than unilaterally, appropriate to collect. Furthermore, Amendments 111 and 112 would add additional safeguards to any Secretary of State’s regulations so that parents can feel confident that the data contained in the register is secure, respects privacy and is subject to the proper consent of the data subject where sharing and publication are concerned.
Similarly, why do Her Majesty’s Government believe that the Secretary of State has the absolute right to access information relating to an individual child without providing a just reason? This is highly sensitive data, and the Secretary of State ought to be able to provide a suitable reason to access information relating to an individual child. This would be remedied by Amendment 127, which requires the Secretary of State to have a clearly defined reason when accessing individual data from the register. Without this requirement, the state could essentially snoop on parents without providing any justification for doing so.
I remain concerned by the idea that local authorities can collect
“such details of the means by which the child is being educated”.
The “means” by which a child is being educated is only one degree away from requiring the actual content of what a child is being taught. However, even the idea of the “means” implies that there is a correct means and an incorrect means—correct content and incorrect content. In fact, the way a child learns can vary, and it strikes me that the parents are best placed to decide how a child needs to be educated. In my opinion, as set out in Amendment 101, all that needs to be proved is that
“the child is receiving a suitable education”.
My Lords, I have a few amendments in this group. Amendment 97E is an echo of Amendment 101B and may well have already been answered. Amendments 98A, 101A and 104A seek to offer a defence of reasonableness for withholding. An obvious example of that would be where a parent has escaped an abusive relationship and does not want the details of her spouse and other such information to be on, in effect, a public register, or one which the local authority can use widely down its existing channels. There have already been examples of local authorities leaking such data. It is reasonable, where you have a proven history of suffering abuse, to withhold the information of a spouse, and it ought to be a defence.
I also join the right reverend Prelate in my concern for the data-related clauses. Amendments 110A and 126B address that in rather more general terms than he did. This seems to be highly personal data, very loosely regulated, and I am concerned that that is neither appropriate nor actually needed.
I urge the Committee to take a close look at proposed new Sections 436C(1)(c), 436C(1)(d) and 436C(2), all of which seem to display the characteristics of some of the earlier clauses in the Bill that we have expressed concern about. Where there is already a mechanism for assessing whether a child is being offered a suitable education, what on earth would Section 436C(1)(c) be required for?
Paragraph (d) allows the Secretary of State to invent anything. This really gets at undermining the relationship between the Government and home educators; just at a flick of the pen, some whole new suite of information can be required of them, greatly altering the relationship between them and the system, and introducing that level of uncertainty. Unless the Government have clear plans for what they want to do, and a clear understanding of why it is needed, this seems very damaging for their plans and quite unnecessary.
Subsection (2) is devastating. It allows the local authority to invent anything. Given the powers of compulsion in this Bill, the short timescales and the way in which that could cascade into school attendance orders, this is really unreasonable. If we want to give powers to local authorities, we should specify exactly. We should not allow them to mess up the relationship on a whim. There are some lovely local authorities—I will give some quotes later—and some home educators are really happy in their relationships with them. However, I have read extensive correspondence from and about some of them that is, frankly, abusive.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans is right that parents should have the right to choose the educator for their children, whether they choose a voluntary aided school, a maintained school or an academy, or to home educate. I would be extremely concerned if they chose an unregistered school which in many cases would fail an Ofsted inspection every day it was inspected because of some of the practices that go on, but we do not know that because we do not have that information.
We probably all agree, including in respect of the amendments that I have put down, that we need to take a chill on this and think it through carefully, because I can see that there are issues here. We need to know what the real information is that we want, and why we want it in the first place. But let us not kid ourselves that it is just about this. For example, parents give all sorts of data when they apply for a school—far more detail than some of the requests that are in this Bill. Voluntary aided schools, for example, will ask the faith of the family. Why do they ask that? In a Catholic-run school, for example, they will have a percentage of children who are non-Roman Catholic who can take up places, and that is why they want that information. I make no comment on whether that is right or wrong.
Believe it or not—and I am not particularly keen on this—individual schools, even primary schools, have informal application forms that parents fill out. I remember only a few years ago that one of the questions on the informal application form was what the occupation of the parent was. There is a whole gamut of information out there and we need to rein some of that in.
My final point is that we must ensure that when we have had this pause and perhaps reflected on what we really want, this data is not retained at the end of a child’s schooling. The notion that the data is retained by schools or local authorities is not very helpful. That would be my concern.
I turn to my Amendment 103. I have never really understood this issue, in the sense that when I was first a head teacher—I was head teacher of two schools—you had to collect a unique pupil number. Why? So that when a child moved to another school, perhaps if they moved house, their parents moved jobs or they just did not like the school they were at, you could know that they were in a secure situation. This was brought in by the Blair Government. I never understood why we did not know how many children were in schools when we had this unique pupil number.
This came home to me when I had a pupil who, for all sorts of reasons, left the school I was at. The local authority contacted me and asked, “What happened to pupil X?”. I said, “Well, his parents told me that he’s gone to this school, and I have contacted the school and given it the unique pupil number”. The school never received the pupil, and nobody knows what happened to the unique pupil number. We have to think through what we really mean by that and how it will work.
If we want to have a proper system, it has to involve us being able to follow the pupil’s education—not in any way spying, but making sure that the pupil is, first, getting educated and, secondly, being safeguarded.
I do not want to rehash everything that has been said. I think that most noble Lords who have spoken support this idea in principle and want to see it work, so I hope the Minister takes what I am about to say in that spirit.
I think that this is really sloppy, particularly when you are talking about something that could lead to imprisonment. I have done a lot of justice Bills, and I do not think I have ever seen anything quite like this where, in new Section 436C(1)(d), parents are asked to provide
“any other information that may be prescribed”,
then, in new subsection (2), the local authority register
“may also contain any other information the local authority consider appropriate.”
That is limitless at that point.
The Bill goes on, in new Section 436D(2)(c), to say that the onus is on the parent to inform the registering authority—the local authority—of any changes to this information, which could be anything, as yet to be decided,
“of which the parent is aware”.
That is vague. Who decides whether the parent should be “aware”? How do you know that the parent is “aware”? That needs to be tidied up.
The Bill goes on to say that, should the parent fail—forgetting whether or not we can evidence whether they were “aware”—to provide something that is totally unspecified in the Bill, they can be fined and there can be an order that their child must attend school; they can decide which school. The parent can also be imprisoned for up to 51 months. I think it is pretty extraordinary that we are being asked to agree to an imprisonable offence—which we might well agree to if this was better drafted—when a parent is being asked to provide information that is unspecified. I do not think that is acceptable.
If the Government want to proceed with this, they need to think hard about new Section 436C in particular, because I can see that causing real problems in court should it need to be interpreted. It would be very helpful if the Government could have a rethink about this or, at the very least, if the Minister could say at the Dispatch Box, maybe this evening, what she thinks a parent who is “aware” looks like, because this will be looked to by a court that wants to understand the intention of this, should it need to. Does that mean a council has written to that parent? Would that be sufficient to then commence this whole series of interventions that could, as I say, lead to the imprisonment of a parent?
It is no good the Minister standing there and saying. “This will hardly ever be used; it will be an exceptional circumstance”, because we are here to consider those circumstances. If that circumstance should be a very rare thing, we need to know the circumstances that would lead to it, rare or not. Being asked to agree to including in the Bill
“any other information that may be prescribed”
is very troubling to us. So we support the idea of a register and want very much to support the Government in what they are trying to do but we cannot just let this matter go, given the slack way in which the legislation is currently drafted.
My Lords, if I may, before turning to the amendments in this group, I shall respond to the request of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that I should clarify my remarks regarding criminalisation. I am happy to do so.
The context in the previous group where this was mentioned related to parents who failed, if I remember correctly, because they were on holiday or away, to provide information in time for their home-educated child to be registered with the local authority. To be clear, there is no criminal sanction for not providing information for registers by parents. The offence mentioned by the noble Baroness is an existing offence: the breaching of a school attendance order. Nothing is being made an offence in this case that is not already an offence. I hope that that clarifies that point.
I turn to this group of amendments, which broadly concern requirements to collect information for the children not in school registers and how this information will be shared.
My Lords, it is fair enough if the Minister is saying that we have misunderstood. That happens. However, the legislation states clearly that a parent who is registered by a local authority under proposed new Section 436B “must”. That sounds to me as if the parent is compelled to do that and, if they do not do so, there will be a penalty. I do not understand what the Minister means when she says that it is not an offence.
The example to which I was alluding in my remarks on the previous group was the one whereby parents would be asked to provide information but missed the deadline because they were on holiday and would be criminalised. That is not accurate. Parents who are asked to provide information, who miss the deadline and then provide the information, will not be criminalised.
The general point that I was trying to make in the earlier group was that I felt that language was being used in the Committee about the way in which the Government were approaching the Bill that would be taken at face value by home-educating parents, many of whom, we all agree, are already anxious about this matter. That would not help. Any challenge is absolutely right and proper; I was just requesting that we should do this in a way in which home-educating parents are not alarmed inappropriately.
Nobody wants to alarm anyone unnecessarily, which is why we are trying to get the Bill right, but it states clearly that a person “must” comply with the duty within a period of not less than 15 days. To me, that reads like something that we are compelling people to do and that if they do not, there will be a consequence. I do not want to drag this out further but it is important that we interpret this as something that is being made into an offence. I can see why people are concerned.
I understand. However, that would be a civil matter but we will confirm it in writing.
If I may proceed, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker, Lady Brinton and Lady Garden, and the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Knight of Weymouth, for Amendments 97D, 97E, 102 and 103, which all seek for additional information to be included on the registers. The Bill allows for regulations to be made prescribing details of the means by which a child is being educated and other information that must be included in registers.
The Government have already signalled their intention for certain information to be required for inclusion on the registers via regulations, such as ethnicity, sex and other demographic information. This is in addition to whether a child is electively home educated or receiving their education in other settings. The delegated powers in the Bill would also allow for prescription of further data at a later date, which could include, for example, unique identifying numbers if that were desired.
I turn to Amendments 104 to 109, tabled in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. Under the new measures, local authorities will be able to require parents to provide them only with the information prescribed in legislation. They may, however, record any other information in their registers that they consider appropriate and have collected through other channels.
To be clear, local authorities will be able to require parents to provide them only with the information that is prescribed in legislation; in this case it will be secondary legislation. I hear the concerns raised by noble Lords, particularly in relation to proposed new Section 436C(1)(d). I will take that away and reflect on your Lordships’ comments.
Amendments that limit this ability could cause local authorities to act with unnecessary caution in relation to the collection and inputting of information. There may be cases where data, such as special category data, is collected that may not be initially deemed directly relevant to safeguarding a child or in their best interests but could in future be critical to protecting that child from harm.
On Amendments 113 and 114 from the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, I will try to reassure her that any provision made in regulations will be lawful only if it has been “reasonably” made. I also thank her for her Amendment 98. Under education law, each parent of every child of compulsory school age is legally responsible for ensuring that their child receives an efficient full-time education. It is therefore appropriate that the name and address of each parent be recorded in the registers.
I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for Amendments 98A, 101A, 104A, 110A and 126B, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for Amendments 111, 112 and 127, which raise the important issue of data protection. Regarding data retention, the Bill already allows for regulations to make provision about the format and keeping of registers, as well as about access to and publication of the register. It is the Government’s intention to use this power to stipulate how local authorities must keep the information on their registers up to date and whether and how information is to be published. The requirement in the Bill for local authorities to provide prescribed information to the Secretary of State will help inform policy development; for example, in relation to the types and level of support needed by families and whether particular groups need more support than others.
It is also important that the Secretary of State is able to, if needed, collect individual level data. This can be linked to other datasets for research purposes; for example, to understand who benefits from home education. It is also vital in improving our understanding of children going “missing” from data systems. We would be unable to gather a full picture of this from aggregated data. The Government do not intend to use the power on setting out how the registers are published to instruct local authorities to publish personal information about children or families, but again, I will reflect on the comments made by your Lordships in relation to that.
Registers will also include important information on children that may aid other professionals’ work for the purposes of promoting or safeguarding the education or welfare of the child. It is therefore necessary to enable relevant information to be shared with certain other persons external to a local authority without delay, especially where children are at risk of immediate harm.
Existing UK GDPR obligations will apply, however, and should ensure that all the information held in the registers is protected like any other personal data. It also requires that personal data not be kept for longer than is necessary and is proportionate to achieve the purpose of keeping it. Data protection will be a strong focus in the new statutory guidance, and we will continue to engage with stakeholders on that prior to publication.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for Amendments 100 and 101. Regulations are likely only to require details of where a child is being educated and the proportion of time there. This will help local authorities to ensure that children are receiving a suitable education and identify those who are missing education or attending illegal schools.
I turn to Amendments 109A and 110. These amendments relate to the ability to make regulations relating to provisions for the maintenance and publication of children not in school registers. The power to make regulations about whether and how the contents of registers are to be made available or published is important to ensure consistency across local authorities; consistency, or rather the current lack of it, has been mentioned by many of your Lordships today.
However, it may also be appropriate for some of this to be for local authorities to determine, based on local circumstances and requirements. For example, while we would expect to make regulations concerning how the register is to be kept updated, we may not initially wish to prescribe the registration forms that local authorities must use. Similarly, we may not ultimately wish to prescribe whether an authority needs to publish specific information from its register.
I turn to Amendment 133 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox. The regulations prescribing the information to be provided to the Secretary of State have a narrow scope, as only information included within a local authority register can be shared. Information will be used to inform policy development to support safeguarding and children not in school. The Government believe that the negative resolution is appropriate for these regulations.
Regarding Amendment 171S, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, existing UK GDPR obligations will apply and require that all the information held in the registers is protected, like any other personal data. In addition, work is already under way in my department to develop a certification process, independently endorsed by the Information Commissioner’s Office, that will cover the education sector to regulate the sharing of children’s data across the whole sector in a better way.
I hope I have managed to cover this large group of amendments on this important topic. I will take away a number of your Lordships’ remarks and reflect on them. With that, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, feels able to withdraw her amendment and that other noble Lords will not press theirs.
Before the Minister finishes, I say that the local authorities have been heavily involved in this data information issue. What sort of consultations were held with the Local Government Association and what information do local authorities actually need about a child?
In her very careful responses, the noble Baroness the Minister clearly recognises that there are very wide differences between the children who are not in school. Some are well educated and nobody wants to curtail that—adjustments may be made, but this is not thought to be a large percentage. An unknown number, but it is estimated to be a very large number, of children are not well educated; I suggest that the register needs to be primarily directed at these children. There are all sorts of reasons why they are not well educated. I will not go into them at this hour of the night but, for example, the schools are illegal or extreme, or the parents are at work or cannot educate the children; there are all sorts of reasons.
The Minister’s responses to our questions aimed at making the register more precise—more exactly tailored to what we all need from it while not curtailing the freedom of parents to educate their children at home well—seem mainly to relegate the details to regulations. For the reasons already given in earlier debates, there are problems with this; we have difficulty with it. However, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 97D withdrawn.
Amendments 97E to 112 not moved.
House adjourned at 10.03 pm.