All 14-year-old children in England will have their personal details and exam results placed on an electronic database for life under a plan to be announced tomorrow.
Colleges and prospective employers will be able to access students’ records online to check on their qualifications. Under the terms of the scheme all children will keep their individual number throughout their adult lives, The Times has learnt. The database will include details of exclusions and expulsions.
Officials said last night that the introduction of the unique learner number (ULN)was not a step towards a national identity card. But it will be seen as the latest step in the Government’s broader efforts to computerise personal records.
Last night teachers’ leaders, parents’ organisations, opposition MPs and human rights campaigners questioned whether this Big Brother approach was necessary and said that it could compromise the personal security of millions of teenagers.
The new database – which will store a “tamper-proof CV” – will be known as MIAP (managing Information Across Partners). To be registered on the new database every 14-year-old will be issued with a unique learner number. Unlike the current unique pupil number now given to children in school but destroyed when they leave, the ULN will be used by government agencies to track individuals until they retire. Ultimately, it will create a numbered database for every citizen aged 14-plus in the UK.
The MIAP is part of a push for more government departments to share information on ordinary citizens with each other. The new Education and Skills Bill to raise the education leaving age from 16 to 18, for example, contains sweeping powers for local authorities to access information from schools, health agencies and social services to track young people between the ages of 16 and 18.
Margaret Morrisey, of the National Association of Parent Teacher Associations, said that plans for MIAP, which will be compulsory for all 14-year-olds throughout the UK, would fill parents with horror.
“I suspect there will not be more than two parents in the land who would have faith in the Government that this information will be secure,” she said.
A spokeswoman for MIAP, which will come under the auspices of the Learning and Skills Council, said that the database had the support of more than 40 “stakeholder organisations” from across the education sector.
Original plans for MIAP drawn up by the Government in 2003 suggested that the database could be linked to identity cards, raising the prospect that once pupils were in the system they might be forced into accepting an ID card.
The spokeswoman said that this plan had been shelved for the time being. “At the moment there are no plans for the Unique Learner Number to be used by the ID Card system,” she said. She added that the purpose of the system was to support the education, training and careers guidance of the learner, “not security, taxation or access to government services”.
The database would enable students to build a lifelong record of their educational participation and achievements that can be accessed through the internet. The system would be password protected and would have two points of entry. Students could look up their full records and personal details by using one password. They could then give another password to employers to give them access to a restricted view of the information online.
John Dunford, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Given the track record of government IT disasters and the possibility that all these children’s records will end up in Iowa, this is a worry.” While accepting that it would be helpful to keep centralised records of pupil achievement, he questioned the need to put it online.
Michael Gove, the Shadow Schools Secretary, said: “The government has a terrible track record in managing complex IT programmes. Recent events have shown that sensitive personal data is not safe in ministers’ hands. There must be profound worries not just in terms of civil liberties, but also in terms of the security of young people with a project like this”.
He added that it was a “classic ministerial muddle” to press head with the new database while awaiting the outcome of a security review into a separate planned database, known as ContactPoint, containing personal details of all 11 million children in England, including names, addresses, schools, GPs and, where applicable, social worker. The ContactPoint review was ordered last year after HM Revenue and Customs lost two computer discs containing the banking and personal details of 25 million people. This was followed by the disappearance in Iowa of three million UK learner driver details, and the theft of a laptop containing personal details of 600,000 people who considered a career in the forces.
However, Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, is said to be satisfied with the security arrangements made for the new database, which is expected to go online next September.