Emma Patchett: From the Border to the Classroom – Boycott the School Census

The Boy and the Border, 2016
The Boy and the Border, 2016

On 18th May, a statutory census will be collected by schools, asking parents to declare details of their children’s birthplaces and nationalities. This reflects a long-term policy instigated by then-Home Secretary Theresa May in 2015, when she outlined proposals designed to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants as part of a new Immigration Bill.

Following discussions as to the specifics of these data, the Department for Education (DfE) went ahead with the decision to collect nationality, country of birth and language data ostensibly “to improve [the DfE’s] understanding of the scale and impact of pupil migration on the education sector.” Although all parents and guardians have the right to refuse to supply this information, evidence has shown that this right to opt out of the census is not made clear when the information is requested. In 2016, it transpired that the DfE was sharing the data collected with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.

The incursion of the border into our everyday lives is not a new phenomenon. While the world is distracted by the grotesque spectacle of Trump’s onanism over his “huge” border wall, the policing of immigration has made its way into every corner of civic and private life. Landlords, hospital staff and lecturers are being pressured into becoming proxy border guards, required to disclose to the Home Office the nationalities and countries of birth of the tenants, patients and students with whom they work. This insidious form of policing demonstrates the extent to which the border is fluid and tentacular, as it leaks and grasps its way into everyday spaces, far from the official frontiers of the state.

The impact of these recent policing intensifications and encroachments on our understanding of how the shifting border operates is well-documented. But it is also necessary to consider what the diversification of immigration enforcement – through the creation of multi-layered and diffuse border zones – reveals about the imagined space of the nation state. The depiction of schools as sites of border control acting on behalf of the state is, it could be argued, a logical consequence of the school’s function as part of the state’s ideological apparatus. The curriculum is confined to a particular rendering of history, for example, and limited to a narrow interpretation of knowledge (or of which ‘knowledge’ counts as valid).

In this sense, schools already define what belongs, and what doesn’t belong, in the nation state. On the other hand, the right of every child to a free education should always be integral to any society, and without public funding flowing from the state, education is likely to be warped by market-driven commodification, and accessibility and accountability would be reduced even further.

One way out of this bind is to recognise Paulo Friere’s demand for a critical pedagogy, in which all must recognise their roles in producing and defining knowledge. Moreover, as educators and parents (and, most importantly, self-conscious agents), we must think critically about the complicity of the educational system in the maintenance of a dominant ideology, finding ways to incorporate this awareness into a progressive curriculum.

With this in mind, it is critically important to encourage all parents, guardians and teachers to resist the imposition of the state’s sadistic border fetishism by boycotting the upcoming census. The rejection of these practices of stealthy border enforcement can be seen as a starting point in a greater strategy of exposing, engaging with and challenging the developing imaginary of the nation state, and the dominant perception of who ‘belongs’ to it.


Emma Patchett is a Research Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg “Law as Culture” in Bonn, Germany.





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