Health Workers in Wales to be Required to Share Children’s Data with Local Authorities

Health Workers in Wales to be Required to Share Children’s Data with Local Authorities

A fortnight after the English consultation closed, the Welsh Government launch another on their proposed Children Missing Education Databases

What’s been said?

On 31 January the Welsh Government launched their long-promised Consultation on Children Missing Education Database. This seeks views on “the children missing education database proposal and regulations for local authorities and local health boards.” The closing date is 25 April.

The home page links to the Consultation Document, an Online Response Form, the Regulations (i.e. the Statutory Instrument to be laid before the Senedd) and two Impact Assessments [IAs], an Integrated one for local authorities and health boards [IIA], the other a draft IA on Children’s Rights [CRIA].

Families First in Education Wales have already reported on the consultation here.

There are a total of twenty-three questions, four specific to Local Health Boards [LHBs], two to general medical services contractors, and five to local authorities [LAs]. Also several general questions, plus one on disproportionate impact and protected characteristics, two related to the Welsh language, and lastly an open-ended opportunity for respondents to detail “any related issues which we have not specifically addressed.”

Responses can be submitted on line (with the option to revisit incomplete submissions via the provision of an email address), by email or by post. All questions have free text boxes for supporting comments, with no no word limit.

By comparison with the recently closed English consultation paperwork which was long and obtuse, the Welsh material is not a difficult read. The Welsh government [WG] make their intentions and proposals abundantly clear.

In order to understand why revised proposals are now being consulted on, we need to remind ourselves of a previous (2020) WG consultation. This concerned requirements for each local authority to set up a database of all compulsory school age children in their area, to establish whether they were in receipt of a suitable education.

Having ‘listened’ to the responses to that proposal and taken further advice, WG is now consulting on:

revised database regulations that place a requirement on each LA to establish a database of only those children in their area who may be missing education and/or may not be in receipt of a suitable education, that is, they are not receiving education at school, otherwise than at school (EOTAS provision), or they are electively home educated (EHE) and not known to be in receipt of a suitable education.” [Emphasis added]

The regulations will require LHBs to share information about children usually resident in their area with the relevant LA on an annual basis. From the consultation document we learn that LHBs would ‘only’ share the minimum information required (i.e. a child’s name, address, gender and date of birth) to enable LAs to cross-reference the new data with its education data, and thus identify any children not known to them.

The intention is to run a pilot scheme across a small number of LAs and LHBs for a year, then evaluate this before implementing anything more widely.

LAs have told WG they need a means to identify children in their areas they do not know about, who are potentially missing education. They base this on s175 of Education Act 2002, saying their education functions are undertaken “with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.”

Essentially then, the database will operate by combining data from two sources, the Pupil Level Annual School Census and data from independent schools with additional information from LHBs. This should yield a “reasonably complete list of all compulsory school age children, regardless of where they are educated.” By cross-referencing and a process of elimination, local authorities believe this will then enable them to identify children not known to them who may be potentially missing education.

The consultation document provides further detail:

“Only the names of children who are not known to the LA, or known to the LA but they have been unable to determine whether the education being provided is suitable, will be included on the database…
Once the LA has a complete list of children who are potentially CME, these names will be included within their database. The LA will take necessary action to identify those children and determine whether they are missing education, in line with the statutory guidance to help prevent children and young people from missing education.
Names will be removed from the database once the LA has located the child and determined that they are in receipt of a suitable education.”

Why does it matter?

Multiple reasons probably spring to mind about why this issue matters. Headlined below are some of the more obvious areas of concern. We hope to cover these and other points in more detail later.

  • Draconian intrusion into personal and family life without consent of those involved
  • Potential violation of certain UNCRC articles, despite claims otherwise
  • Conflation of EHE children with CME
  • Confusion around whose duty it is to determine suitable education, transfer of authority from parents to representatives of the state
  • Proposals reflect broader policy agendas around “the goal of a more equal Wales”
  • Assertion that the revised proposals are, on balance, “a reasonable and proportionate approach.”
  • Several important issues such as data protection, confidentiality, data security conspicuous by their absence.

What can I do?

It’s still early days. The consultation closes on 25 April. But now is the time to be doing the reading, and starting the thinking processes and discussions with other HEs, so you can be formulating your response in your own mind.

The documents convey the impression that WG are confident about their revised proposals, having made significant adjustments. They imply they are on solid ground, after listening to previous feedback and consulting with those who worked with them in preparing the regulations.

There’s therefore a need for respondents to be clear-thinking and strategic, looking for weaknesses in WG’s current arguments and for alternative angles to rebut.

Some of the points raised above were addressed in previous articles written at the time of the 2019 Welsh consultation. This one may be a useful refresher.

Fiona Nicholson has also provided very helpful analysis of the current issues on her Ed Yourself website – also here and here.

Other helpful reading might include this article about research into data linkage conducted at Southampton University.

We have also updated our Welsh Consultation page with information about this consultation and will add further links as they appear.