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On 30 September 2023 the Observer newspaper reported that the UK government has been keeping files on the social media activity of ‘education critics’ and ‘at least nine experts’ have been under surveillance (Fazackerley, 2023a). On 21 October it was further revealed that teachers and teaching assistants were also being monitored (Fazackerley, 2023b).

I post on X (formerly Twitter), so I made a Subject Access Request (SAR) application where I filled in a form to ask the Department for Education (DfE) to inform me what information they held. I was notified about this in two documents:

Document 1

  1. A reply by Leora Cruddas (4/8/23) to a post I made on X about Academies (19/4/23).
  2. A pdf of an article about distributed leadership was attached to an email (17/10/19).
  3. A pdf of an article about the National College for School Leadership was attached to an email (28/11/12).
  4. I had responded to a consultation and my work contact information has been saved (10/01/17).
  5. My work and home contact information (9/4/03; 10/3/19) (my home landline number is included, 23/1/08).
  6. My membership of the New Visions for Education Group (13/3/17).

Document 2

A spreadsheet that includes my:

  • DFE teacher reference number
  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • National Insurance number
  • PGCE qualification with dates
  • BA degree with the wrong title
  • Employment details with an appointment date to a named university on 26 June 2004, when I left that University on 31 August 1993.

Questions I would like to ask:

What? The information collected is not comprehensive and not always accurate. Everything is in the public domain except my home telephone number, and certainly my webpages ( and the recent publication of a Festschrift provides more detailed evidence of my research activity.

When? Information has been sporadically collected, and interestingly much of it during the past two decades. Information about my career is out of date (as well as inaccurate and incomplete) and so at certain points collection was interrupted or stopped.

How? There are no details of the process used, or who is doing this, except to say that two articles from ESRC-funded projects have clearly got onto someone’s radar in the DfE; and one post on X has been noticed in such a way as to have been collected.

Why? There is nothing provided to explain the reasons why this information has been collected and stored, and why other information has not. There is no information about the ethical approval process that the DfE has been through in general, and certainly each time the information has been updated and retained.

Who? There is nothing provided to explain who is collecting the information, who is retaining, editing and deleting, and who has access to it.

The whole process in Arendtian terms is banal and thoughtless – information that is mainly in the public domain has been identified, kept and it seems it has been used (two articles included in an email; reply to a post on X), but it is not clear what for. Importantly, there is much more interesting research analysis that has been posted on social media that the DfE really does need to know about and use, and so why have they not done that?

‘Who thinks it is okay to use public money to collect information that is wrong and seemingly redundant, and primarily in the public domain?’

Overall, who thinks it is okay to use public money to collect information that is wrong and seemingly redundant, and primarily in the public domain? If the DfE had asked for my CV, then I would have sent it with pleasure. I am just one of many education professionals who now know that they have been under what is clearly very poor surveillance, and if Ofsted had inspected the DfE on this matter then they would have been put in special measures. My SAR application has demonstrated yet again that the DfE has a disdainful and toxic relationship with independent research evidence, and with the research community. Our work continues to have a productive impact on professional practice and on national standards, and yet we are treated with such disdain by the very people who need to engage seriously and respectfully with our project evidence and analysis.


Fazackerley, A. (2023a, September 30). Revealed: UK government keeping files on education critics’ social media activity. Observer.  

Fazackerley, A. (2023b, October 21). UK government keeping files on teaching assistants’ and librarians’ internet activity. Observer.