There have been several stories in the press over the last week or two showing that Britain's children are being caught in the increasingly wide-flung net of our state and its justice system, in fast-growing numbers and at ever younger ages.
The Register had the headline UK.gov hoovers up data on five-year-olds. A questionnaire given to parents of school starters in Lincolnshire has been found intrusive and intimidating by many of those parents.
The government obsession with collecting data has now extended to five-year-olds, as local Community Health Services get ready to arm-twist parents into revealing the most intimate details of their own and their child's personal, behavioural and eating habits.
The questionnaire - or "School Entry Wellbeing Review" - is a four-page tick-box opus, at present being piloted in Lincolnshire, requiring parents to supply over 100 different data points about their own and their offspring's health. Previously, parents received a "Health Record" on the birth of a child, which contained around eight questions which needed to be answered when that child started school.
The Review asks parents to indicate whether their child "often lies or cheats": whether they steal or bully; and how often they eat red meat, takeaway meals or fizzy drinks.
However, the interrogation is not limited to intimate details of a child's health. Parents responding to the survey are asked to provide details about their health and their partner's health, whether they or their partner are in paid employment, and even to own up to whether or not their child is upset when they (the parent) returns to a room.
Interestingly parents were given the impression that completing the survey was a mandatory part of the school-application process, rather than an optional fact-gathering exercise by the council. There are also concerns about the legality of the survey, asking as it does for various information not only about the child, but also about their parents and their parents' partners, bringing it into conflict with the DPA's requirement for data-gathering to be restricted to what is necessary and appropriate for a specific task.
The Telegraph wrote about annual behaviour reports for all UK school-children.
"Currently, schools are required to write an annual report for parents covering childrens' attendance, exam results and progress in the classroom.
But under proposals from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, a record of pupils' positive and negative behaviour will also be included.
Head teachers insisted the move was "divorced from the reality of what goes on schools".
It comes amid growing concerns that staff are already struggling under the weight of Government bureaucracy.
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "If a school wants to praise or raise concerns about a child's behaviour they will do it directly with the parent. The idea that schools should have to spell it all out once a year in a report is completely pointless. It is an insult to the professionalism of teachers."
This adds an additional burden of bureaucracy to already over-stretched teachers, time which would be better spent interacting with the kids than reporting on them. Teachers should and will notify parents of behavioural problems if and when they arise, rather than leaving the issues to be reported months later in an annual report - which will quite possibly be too late to usefully address the issues anyway.
Going back a few months, we had a selection of articles about children at a top school walking out of their classroom in protest after CCTV was installed against the wishes of both children and parents:
"The school, a mixed comprehensive, is at the cutting edge of surveillance technology and has already drawn criticism from parents after introducing finger-scanning technology it its canteen. It is astonishing that schools are spending public money on these surveillance systems, which, whatever Straw says, are grooming pupils for life in a society in which they may expect to be watched at every moment of the day." (source)
In the words of A-level politics pupils from the school:
Our school's installation of TV cameras to watch our lessons is an insult - a fact many adults failed to grasp when we protested.
If you want to reform the education system, if you want to raise education standards, then watching children every hour of every day isn't the answer. The answer is to encourage students to learn by creating an environment in which they can express their ideas freely and without intimidation."
Yesterday Henry Porter pointed out the necessity of youth activism in healthy democracy, taking Eastern Europe as an example:
"Looking round at the earnest faces of the new generation of Czech students, it stuck me that liberty will always owe youth - if I were to identify one of the real adversaries of freedom it would certainly be student indifference.
Most Europeans have no idea about the advances of the surveillance state here: about such things as a DNA database containing the profiles of a million innocent - often black - people, the number recognition cameras that track our journeys, the 4.5m CCTV cameras on our streets, the CRB checks of 11 million people, the proposals to access data from all our communications and internet usage, the sinister children's databases, the 500,000 people who fell under some kind of official surveillance last year in the United Kingdom.
The chair, Garton Ash, said this: "What is happening in my country, the oldest free country in the world, is that our civil liberties are being eroded in an extraordinary way, like the famous salami - cut for cut. And nobody is really standing up.
Time to wake up. Time for students in Britain to grasp what is happening.
Finally, this week saw the Met releasing its annual report with details of how stop and search powers have been used on young people (defined here as 'under the age of 25'). There were reports in both the Evening Standard and the Guardian which both detailed the two-fold rise in absolute numbers of very young (10 and 11 years old) children searched, as well as the sharp rise in the bias towards searches of children from ethnic minorities (40% of those stopped were black). What was conspicuously missing from both reports was any hard numbers showing how successful the strategy has been - we are not even told the most basic fact, how many of these searches found something illegal. If the sharp rise in searches of a particular age group or minority has led to a sharp rise in the amount of drugs or weapons confiscated then surely this fact would have been used to justify the increase - the absence of any such numbers leads me to believe that the strategy has failed to achieve anything except the popular political target of getting good headlines for being 'tough on crime'.
All this seems to be part of an overall governmental strategy which is proving far from cheap. Surely if our education system is in desperate need of more funding, we should be spending less money on surveillance and intimidation, freeing it up for the core goal of actually teaching children?