Prying by postcode

1st June 2007 at 01:00
Heads shun 'Big Brother' Ofsted survey asking 10-year-olds if they get drunk and if mum works

PUPILS AS young as 10 are being asked personal questions, including how often they get drunk and whether their parents have paid jobs, in an Ofsted survey.

The education watchdog has told teachers they do not need parental permission before children complete the online questionnaire because it is anonymous.

But pupils are being asked for their full home postcode.

A number of schools are refusing to take part amid concerns that it is too intrusive and will gather information on individual households.

About 120,000 children across England have taken part in Ofsted's "Tel* Us2"

survey, which explores health, bullying and home life. Pupils in Years 6, 8 and 10 are being asked almost 40 questions for a national database that 145 local authorities will use to judge their performance in supporting children, especially vulnerable ones.

Schools have until June 14 to complete their responses.

Some headteachers have attacked the survey for being too personal and for not making parental consent compulsory.

The head at one primary school that declined to take part said: "Not telling parents will cause a furore. Many heads are uncomfortable with it.

If they have your postcode the system has you logged. People have not got the measure of how intrusive this is."

When Ofsted wrote to schools, a sample letter was included that could be sent to parents. But the letter does not refer to the most personal questions.

These include: "Does the mum or stepmum you live with have a paid job?" "In the last four weeks how many times, if any, have you got drunk?" and "Have you ever smoked a cigarette?"

Other questions ask whether children feel at risk of harm at home and school, how easy it is to get help from teachers, and how well schools deal with bullying.

According to the Marketing Research Society, an average postcode applies to 15 addresses, although that can be as low as one in rural areas.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office, the independent authority set up to protect personal information, said: "Including a full postcode stops this questionnaire being anonymous. We would recommend schools seek the consent of pupils and parents."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said many of his members had expressed concern. "The words intrusive and Big Brother do come up when you ask these kinds of questions," he said.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "Although the survey asks for postcodes, these will not be made available outside Ofsted and will be used for analysis purposes only."

Asking personal questions was valuable because the responses would help local authorities meet the needs of vulnerable children.

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