Parents have been told they will be unable to withhold their children’s PPS numbers from a controversial new Department of Education database as the information will be found from the Department of Social Protection instead.
The new primary online database (POB) requires that primary schools hand over PPS numbers for all their pupils, to be held by the department and shared with other state agencies until the ‘child’ is 30 years old.
However, not all primary schools collect PPS numbers when enrolling pupils and, in cases where parents are asked but refuse to provide the information, the department has said it will use the mother’s name to seek the child’s number through Social Protection.
All primary schools require a child’s birth certificate for enrolment and the certificate carries details of the child’s mother and her married and maiden names. Schools will be required to provide the mother’s maiden name to the POB in cases where they do not have the child’s PPS number.
According to the Department of Education, this is because: “If a school cannot get the child’s PPS number, we will have an arrangement in place to obtain the PPS number from the Department of Social Protection by matching the child’s details with the mother’s maiden name.”
Ironically, the child’s own name is not a compulsory feature of the POB, as the PPS number is considered the key to all the associated data although pupils’ names are requested to help “verify and validate” the PPS.
The only information parental consent is required for is a child’s religion and ethnic or cultural background. Other personal details about a child, their progress through the school system, their use of learning supports, psychological assessments and the language spoken in the child’s home will be collated without consent.
The department has said there will be no consequences for schools if parents do not provide information on their children’s religion as this question is being asked “for statistical purposes only”.
However, it warns that if information is not supplied about ethnic and cultural background, it will be harder to target resource allocation to schools with children who may need extra language classes and other supports.
It also warns that if information is not provided about Traveller children under this heading, schools could lose out on the higher capitation grants available where Traveller pupils are enrolled.
The parents of more than half a million children are currently receiving letters from their schools explaining the need for the data collection, which is meant to be completed by March and updated on an ongoing basis afterwards.
The project has come in for criticism over its intention to hold the information from the time a child enters school until they turn 30.
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan has already said she will look again at whether it is necessary to hold the information so long.
However, further doubts have been raised over the plan following warnings the move could breach data protection laws.
A leading solicitor said that, under the Data Protection Act, information gathered should be limited to only what is necessary, it should be gathered for very particular circumstances, and it should not be retained for longer than necessary.
Simon McGarr, an expert in digital rights, said the plans — which involve sharing the information with various state bodies and holding on to it until pupils are at least 30-year-old — seemed excessive.
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