Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Department for Children, Schools and Families



  1.  Effective sharing of data and information is central to the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCFS) ability to deliver better outcomes for children and learners. Better information sharing is crucial to safeguarding children and supporting the drive to personalise learning and to improve service delivery; it also contributes to improvements in efficiency and effectiveness, in reducing burdens on the front line, and in ensuring effective accountability. It is a cornerstone of the Every Child Matters (ECM) strategy to improve outcomes for all children and for delivery of many of our reform programmes such as specialised diplomas and vocational qualifications reform.

  2.  While better information sharing brings many benefits, the Department is determined to ensure that the benefits are balanced against the need for privacy and the safety and security of personal data and information. This is reflected in the design and delivery of programmes and the systems that support them. This includes legislation when appropriate, guidance and training for practitioners, authorisation and authentication of users, and secure systems.


  3.  Much of DCFS activity depends on effective information sharing, both at the level of Government databases, and between individual practitioners. Every Child Matters is a cross-Government programme, led by DCFS, of system-wide reform of children's services that supports working across professional boundaries to co-ordinate services around the needs of individual children and young people. Similarly the devolved nature of the education and skills sector and large number of public bodies and institutions within it make effective sharing of data and information particularly important. This is increasingly the case as services are organised around the needs of customers.

  4.  DCFS has many major programmes that depend on effective sharing of data. While all aim to improve services to children, families and learners , some are an essential force for protecting children and young people—ContactPoint and the Common Assessment Framework, and the new Vetting and Barring scheme, which is a cross-Departmental programme with the Home Office in the overall lead and DCFS and DH sharing the policy lead for children and for vulnerable adults respectively. Other DCFS programmes are about enabling efficiency, and improving educational attainment. For example, the Managing Information Across Partners (MIAP) programme will enable information about post-14 learners to be shared more efficiently between bodies such as schools, colleges and exam boards.

  5.  We are currently working with a group of Local Authorities piloting Electronic Common Assessment Framework systems (e-CAF systems). They are ensuring access is controlled by one individual in the Local Authority. This work is at an early stage and we are already working with the Information Commissioner to ensure we take his views into account.

  6.  Sharing of data is central to the introduction of major reform programmes such as the Specialist Diplomas for 14 to 19 year olds. For example, this programme may result in a learner completing courses with a number of learning providers and qualification awarding bodies. Students may have a personal portfolio of evidence drawn from different sources. This portfolio (probably web-based) would be portable and owned by the student. It would be capable of being updated from different sources (learning providers, employer assignments) and shared by the student with others including universities, colleges and employers. In this instance the sharing of data brings real benefits to the learner through greater transparency, choice and ownership and supports greater efficiency and effectiveness in the system.

  7.  The Integrated Children's System (ICS) is a framework for working with children in need (as defined under the Children Act 1989) and their families. ICS provides a conceptual framework, a method of practice, and a business process to support practitioners and managers in undertaking the key tasks of assessment, planning, intervention and review, for looked after children and other children in need. It is based on an understanding of children's developmental needs in the context of parental capacity and wider family and environmental factors. It has full regard to current legislation. Because the work with children in need requires skilled use of detailed and complex information, ICS is designed to be supported by an electronic case record system.

  8.  A key aim of ICS is to provide frontline staff and their managers with the necessary help, through information communication technology (ICT), to record, collate, analyse and output the information required. There is no "ICS database". Each of the 150 top-tier local authorities has been required to adopt the best practice principles enshrined in ICS, of assessment, planning, intervention and review. Authorities are required to ensure that the information needed for each of these key processes for responding to children in need in their own area is held electronically according to appropriate exemplars. This has meant that each authority has been developing it own existing IT systems to meet this challenge.

  9.  ICS users are not exempt from the legal requirements governing either the sharing of personal data or social care practice. The Children Act 1989 is clear that, whenever an assessment of a child's needs, either for services, accommodation, or protection, is made, the child's wishes and feelings must be taken into account.

  10.  The New Deal for Skills (NDfS) programme is currently at pilot stage but also demonstrates some of the advantages that come to both citizens and society at large from effective data sharing, NDfS provides tailored support to help unemployed people develop the skills necessary to sustain and progress in employment by enabling those with low skills or a lack of qualifications to access training provided by the Learning and Skills Council. NDfS also helps to ensure that the training provided is appropriately targeted at those who need it by evaluating the effect of training on job retention and career prospects. Information is shared in two key ways. Firstly, information about unemployed people and their skills is shared between advisers to help them identify suitable training. Secondly, information is shared to evaluate the programmes and see how effective it has been in terms of helping people into work. Data sharing also benefits the taxpayer and wider society by ensuring that benefit claimants attend their specified training courses, increase their skills, come off benefits and enter the workforce. Responsibility for the NDfS programme has been transferred to the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills following the recent Machinery of Government changes.

  11.  In contrast to NDfS, the CCIS (Client Caseload Information System) is a well established operational system. It is currently managed by Connexions and is capable of monitoring the activities of young people at local authority and even ward level. CCIS was primarily designed as a tool for Connexions personal advisers and lead professionals to support effective intervention and identify the most vulnerable young people and their needs. It provides a framework for the consistent recording of information, which is used for performance management and measuring progress towards local targets for supporting those not in education, employment or training.


  12.  While these examples demonstrate some of the benefits of data sharing to both the citizen and administrative systems, the DCFS aims to balance these benefits with the need to maintain privacy and security of data. We are very aware that if citizens are to take up the education, skills and children's services to which they are entitled they must have confidence in the way their personal data is handled and shared. While all services are subject to the appropriate legislation on privacy and security of data we have also put in place a range of measures that aim to provide this confidence and accountability. This is achieved through a range of measures including appropriate legislation, guidance to practitioners, access control through authorisation and accreditation of practitioners and building security into system design.

  13.  We have recently led on work with partners across government, and more widely (including the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)), to develop a practitioner guide on information sharing. The guidance is published as part of the Every Child Matters strategy and is proving a valuable tool for practitioners to enable them to know when and how they can share information legally and professionally, in compliance with the Data Protection Act, the Human Rights Act and the Common Law Duty of Confidentiality. It addresses sharing information as part of preventative services and enables practitioners to reach an informed and appropriate decision about whether information should be shared.

  14.  Additionally the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) is producing guidance on our behalf, and in consultation with the ICO, on the use of biometric systems in schools. This is in response to the growing numbers of schools that are using biometric systems to improve school management; mainly to register attendance, pay for meals or access the library. The use of biometric systems can bring benefits to schools including reductions in bullying and better attendance, along with administrative efficiency and can have other advantages in this regard over other systems such as smart cards. The guidance advises School governing bodies and head teachers (although parents and carers will also find the information useful) on the practical and legal steps they need to follow should they decide to introduce biometric systems. The guidance aims to ensure parents are fully informed about what the school is planning, that appropriate data security measures are in place and that parents and children have alternative access should that be necessary.

  15.  Becta has also published a technical specification for school infrastructure which sets out the security steps for ensuring that electronic data is kept secure, and safeguarded against a range of potential theats, including identity theft. These steps include establishing ICT security policies and procedures, and implementing appropriate physical security, data security, network security and Internet and remote access security.

  16.  Data security is being built into the design and implementation of all the major DCFS programmes. A prime example is ContactPoint which will be the quick way for authorised professionals working with children to find out who else is working with the same child or young person, making it easier to deliver more coordinated support. This basic online directory will be available to authorised staff who need it to do their jobs. It is a key part of the Every Child Matters programme to improve outcomes for children.

  17.  ContactPoint will not hold assessments, record statements of need, academic performance, attendance, diet any subjective material or clinical observations about a child, nor will it hold opinions or views about a child's parents or carers. It will hold only the contact details of the child's carers, general practitioner surgery, school and other professionals working with the child. Authorised users will have to have had relevant training and to have undergone appropriate checks, including enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) certification and ContactPoint operators will be subject to the requirements of the new Vetting and Barring Scheme, established following the Bichard Inquiry to avoid harm, or risk of harm, to children and vulnerable adults.

See Annex for more details of ContactPoint

  18.  The National Pupil Database (NPD) is another example of the way in which data security is central to DCFS systems. The NPD has been recording information on pupils' attainment in education over a number of years. This information can be used effectively to see how pupils have progressed and whether particular initiatives—such as the Aim Higher programme, which aimed to increase participation in higher education—have had an impact. Crucially, this information is held securely and researchers have to apply for access. Any data provided is anonymous: it shows comparative attainment levels, not the details of the pupils and can help researchers identify trends and evaluate policy initiatives.


  19.  As a final example the Vetting and Barring Scheme to be introduced under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and following the Bichard Inquiry aims to help avoid harm, or risk of harm, to children and vulnerable adults. It aims to do this by preventing those who are deemed unsuitable to work with children and vulnerable adults from gaining access to them through their work. This will be done by:

    —    Providing employers with a more effective and streamlined vetting service for potential employees.

    —    Barring unsuitable individuals from working, or seeking to work, with children and vulnerable adults at the earliest opportunity.

  20.  The responsibility for taking barring decisions will lie with a new Independent Safeguarding Authority which will be an independent statutory body. The application processes for vetting and barring decisions will be run by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).


  21.  The Department takes very seriously issues around security and confidentiality of data to ensure that it is only used for purposes for which it is intended. In particular data sharing enables the delivery of better outcomes for children and learners, and helps to protect them from harm by preventing those who are barred from working with children having contact with them or data about them. The measures we are putting in place are designed to provide effective services while also addressing both the legislative requirements on privacy and security and building the confidence of citizens about the education, skills and children's services to which they are entitled.

July 2007

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