Non-consensual Inter-agency Information-sharing in Scotland

What’s been said?

The sub-title of a 28 May Tes article, Government’s safeguarding policy making families who home-educate feel ‘under threat’, is as true now as it was when we first reported the submission of a petition opposing this policy to the Scottish Parliament almost a year ago now.

Spearheaded by Lesley Scott of Tymes Trust and Alison Preuss of the Scottish Home Education Forum, petition PE01692 is entitled Inquiry into the human rights impact of GIRFEC policy and data processing. It was lodged on 13 June 2018, together with accompanying case studies. The summary reads:

“Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish government to initiate an independent public inquiry into the impact on human rights of the routine gathering and sharing of citizens’ personal information on which its Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) policy relies.”

On 29 May the petition finally made it onto the agenda of the Education and Skills Committee, thereby triggering Emma Seith’s Tes article “Petition claims ‘harassment’ of home educators” of the previous day.

Paperwork for this meeting and a subsequent report can be found here and here, with a recording of the relevant section here. In summary, the committee only gave the petition an initial consideration because it was deemed that the findings of the GIRFEC practice development panel would be relevant to a more substantive one “which will take place once the findings are in the public domain.”

When members were offered opportunity to comment,  Liz Smith (Con.) observed that the petition “makes some extremely valid points” and said it was “fair to investigate the matter further.” Johann Lamont (Lab.) picked up on one of the petitioners’ key concerns; “although advice was withdrawn, it is still informing practice.” She recognised that “while the debate is on-going, some of the ideas behind it have been implemented.” [Emphasis added] Two options for gathering further information were then approved by the committee.

Why does it matter?

Seith effectively bore out Lamont’s point above by citing a range of negative impacts being felt by parents and families, including home educators: “However, even with Named Person having been put on hold, the petitioners claim GIRFEC has led to parents and their children experiencing ‘distress, fear, humiliation and harm as a direct result of data misuse by service providers'”.

She went on to detail various effects of this hostile environment, sourced from the case studies – a worrying disengagement from conventional services due to lack of trust of professionals, particularly health visitors; a feeling of being subjected to “a campaign of harassment”; a feeling of being under constant threat due to the appalling attitude of professionals towards home educators, in particular to families whose children have additional needs that schools cannot begin to meet.” [Emphasis added]

The unethical nature of the sharing of sensitive personal data amongst agencies without the consent of the parties involved also features in the Background Information to the petition, where it is pointed out that this “arbitrary interference in children and families’ private lives” has been brought about through “non-consensual inter-agency information-sharing.”

Such themes will not be unfamiliar to regular readers of the HE Byte, but nonetheless are of significant concern.

Petitioner Submission D by Preuss & Scott (10 Sept 2018) also helpfully points out some erroneous and misleading impressions about GIRFEC conveyed by the Scottish Government’s submission of July 30 2018:

“It is a recurring theme within the submission from the Scottish Government that GIRFEC is ‘based upon and promotes’ rights of children, young people and their families. This is an inaccurate and misleading statement. GIRFEC is an outcomes based approach that ‘promotes’ state-mandated indicators of wellbeing, to, purportedly, ‘keep children safe, promote their development and respect their views.'” [Emphasis added]

As with Anne Longfield’s recent appearance before the English Education Select Committee, once again we see the primary importance of parents’ views and preferences being pushed aside by the hubris of state officialdom with its anti-family agenda.

What can I do?

Scottish readers in particular will await with interest the next appearance of Petition PE01692 before the Education & Skills Committee.

Remember to stress the importance of the issue of data protection if you have still to respond to the English Children Not in School consultation which closes on 24 June.

In the meantime, it behoves us all, wherever we live, to be extremely wary about what data we share and with whom.