Friday, July 07, 2006

Orwellian future for children

The Telegraph's John Clare expresses concern about the UK government's common assessments proposals in response to the question of a special needs teacher.

As a special needs teacher, I'm worried about the Government's plans for a "common assessment framework" and "information sharing index". Could you explain which children will be affected and how much information on them will be shared by whom?

"The answer comes straight out of Orwell. Any child up to the age of 19 who is thought by someone in the public, private or voluntary sectors not to be meeting Government targets in respect of education, health or "lifestyle" is liable to find himself/herself the subject of a "common assessment".

The computerised form, which may be filled in by anyone working with children, young people and families ("You do not have to be an expert"), asks more than 150 questions covering such matters as educational achievement, behaviour in class, access to books, quality of parenting, diet, obesity, sexual activity, excessive use of expletives, personal and dental hygiene, the interior and exterior of the home, how the family's income is used - and so on, and on.

All this is to be elicited by "informal, non-threatening discussion" ("It does not have to be presented as a 'big event' "), with the agreement of either the parent or the child (aged 12 or over). The data need not be confined to facts, but opinions should be recorded: "For example: 'Michael said he thinks his dad is an alcoholic'."

Access to the information will be available via the index to every official agency and more than four million individuals. So much for article 8.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life."

Anyone nervous of the implications is assured that "the Data Protection Act is not a barrier to sharing information". The justification for this wholesale intrusion: it will "help the workforce deliver joined-up services" - the excuse of every overbearing state, as Orwell knew."

For more detailed information on the common assessment framework and other UK children's databases see ARCH's excellent Database Masterclass.

Update: SpyBlog says "Some details about the massive Children Index centralised database of 12 million children and their parents and guardians has emerged via a Parliamentary Written Answer Commons Hansard 6 July 2006 : Column 1384W"

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