• We said ‘no’ to a pupil databaase
  • Government introduced a covert database at a huge cost
  • Data Protection were not involved in the implementation
  • Result – snooping without controls
  • Huge amount of unnecessary over-referrals
  • Department forced to mothball the expensive surveillance
  • How was this uncontrolled expenditure possible?
  • Is the department out of control?

What’s yours is government’s and what’s government’s is none of your business?

The issue with government cuts is that we may not agree with government priorities. While we appreciate that there is a need for savings we may not necessarily agree with government priorities. How much does government envisage saving by the cuts to payment of university fees in comparison to the outgoings in other areas of the Department of Education and Children and Child ‘Protection’?

Education cuts

To be more precise: While libraries, pre-school and university fees have all been targeted for the hatchet work no expense is spared in intervention in family affairs it seems. As frequently mentioned the introduction of New Working Practices was heralded by a bill for half a million pounds. This was at the end of the Tony Brown government. Nobody has seen any reason to change things since then.

We do have sufficient funds for family and social surveillance though.

Later we discovered, by pure chance, that the Department of Education and Children was operating a database. You may recall that the Manx public had previously rejected database proposals. However, what does the public have to say about any of this? Precious little, it seems. The database was introduced without open consultation. The initial set up cost was £267,000 and annual running costs £44,000, we are told.

What purpose does this database serve? Well, the DEC felt it would be a saving on manual collection of standard data such as attendance and medical issues etc. When this statement was queried the officer concerned was seemingly unable to demonstrate the saving.

But the department was also looking to obtain data not previously being collected. Various additional issues not previously covered included the plan to compare the academic achievements of children from different backgrounds such as:   looked after children, children with disabilities, low level SEN [Special Educational Needs], youngest children in cohort, achievement of pupils wiith entitlement to free school meals etc.

Is this legal?

Somewhat intrusive, it seems. Obviously the collection of this level of highly sensitive data (without your knowledge or permission) must be carefully handled. Now you might think that this could be ensured by input from the Data Protection Supervisor. It probably could if the DPS  had been involved. However, this is not the case and so this highly expensive database system is now mothballed until the legalities have been sorted:

Committee Recommendation:

That work on the centralised pupil database should be halted until the necessary legislative framework is in place.

It was pointed out to the committee that:

The obvious issue with needlessly recording sensitive and personal information is that it is intrusive and erodes privacy. But there is a further problem if the information is inaccurate, biased, speculative or even plainly false…

Committee recommendation:

That before it puts any updated legislative framework for the handling of pupil data before Tynwald for approval, the Department of Education and Children should undertake thorough consultation with Tynwald Members, parents, teachers and other interested parties

So we’ll be watching out for the consultation on that one, won’t we? Further questioning revealed that the data collection is a non-statutory activity which prompted the following question from the Speaker:

So this non-statutory activity is a higher priority than the non-statutory activity of providing pre-school education?

Well,  the money has been spent. It is gone. Too late. We can’t go backwards we are told. Fait accompli.

Not only but also

All this seems bad enough to me but this is really only half the story: as already reported the alerts now triggered within the Department of Social Care system resulted in a phenomenal amount of over-referrals and arguably unnecessary work in the Child ‘Protection’ arena.  It seems that Mr Robertshaw finds this intrusion into family life – and the stress it must cause, acceptabke.

Coffers empty but money for surveillance?

To re-cap: The DEC seemingly instigated an intrusive form of data collection using a database of which the public was not aware. The Data Protection Supervisor had not been included in the non-statutory process and despite the expenditure the use of the Central Database has now (rightly) been called to a halt. Furthermore, no proof could be provided that the expenditure resulted in a long term saving. This expenditure is more than questionable, I would suggest. Yet, we are now seeing cuts to the education budget affecting our children’s further education.

But it seems that while government spent money on a system which enabled the extension of family surveillance and the collection of data on children from different social backgrounds others complain of bullying and a perceived lack of supervision within our school system. Some parents feel that their children are not adequately protected in school. Evidently, Mr Robertshaw feels at liberty to spend money on family surveillance but can he guarantee a sufficient level of supervision in our schools? Certainly, some parents feel this is not the case. Does Mr R have his priorities right?

Why fix what isn’t broken?

Enormous amounts of time and money have been spent on a system which generates a huge amount of over-referrals which then demand further investment of time and money to enable staff to sift through and eventually jettison a very large proportion of them. Where does it all end? There was no apparent reason to change the working practices. The Isle of Man has no more ‘real’ referrals than other European countries.  The most disturbing cases of lack of care with fatal outcomes over the past decade or so were those who were in government ‘care’.

Department out of control?

While cuts are made within education Mr Robertshaw sees nothing wrong with the vast and seemingly unnecessary overspend in a department which appears to have run out of control. Tuesday’s Tynwald sitting sees the Department of Education and Children’s response to the Committee of Enquiry being laid before Tynwald. More time spent on investigating something which never should have occurred. The public said ‘no’ to a database.


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