Jill Kirby writes on the Conservative Home web site:
Remember the â€œdatabase stateâ€? Before the last election, freedom lovers in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties were highly critical of Labour’s propensity to collect personal information about every citizen. The Labour government believed that building vast databases would enable the state not just to fight crime but also to monitor our use of public services, enabling government to allocate resources more efficiently. Billions were spent in pursuit of these objectives, despite increasing evidence of the risks to privacy through careless handling of the supposedly secure data, and despite the expensive failure of several high-profile projects (such as the NHS central information system and the National Offender Management system).
In opposition, Conservatives promised to limit the use of such data, improve security and, in some cases, to cancel databases altogether. This was an agenda around which the two coalition parties could happily concur. In practice, it has has proved rather more difficult to achieve. Labour’s project to put every child in England and Wales on a database, called Contactpoint, was cancelled by Tim Loughton, then Children’s Minister, in 2010. Mr Loughton took the view that logging information about 11 million children would hinder, rather than help, the prevention of child abuse.
As the Sunday Times revealed at the weekend, however, a database almost as big as Contactpoint, and carrying far more detailed information per child, is not only being built in 8 out of 10 state-maintained schools but is now also being shared with local health services, charities and the police.
The School Information Management System (SIMS) was devised by a schoolteacher in the 1980s to enable schools to manage pupils’ records online; it was bought by Capita in 1994. According to Capita’s website, its aim is â€œto free teachers from an administration burden so they could concentrate on learning and teaching.â€ As Capita explains â€œif you canâ€™t see every pupil, every class and every department year-on-year, you canâ€™t measure progress effectively and canâ€™t intervene effectively.â€ SIMS is â€œtrusted with managing the records of 6 million pupils every day, managing pupil records in over 22,000 schools, for the last 25 years.â€