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School 'prints upset in Lords
FINGERPRINTING pupils in schools has come under attack in Parliament.
The practice of fingerprinting schoolchildren, which is used for smart cards to speed up the attendance register and to give children easier access to libraries and school meals, came under strong cross-party attack in the House Of Lords.
But junior education minister Lord Adonis defended the increasingly prevalent practice, insisting that it was done only with the consent of pupils or their parents.
Last month The Press reported that schools in York are to get renewed advice on fingerprinting pupils.
Education chief Carol Runciman has vowed to renew advice to schools and governing bodies in light of new Government guidelines about informing parents before taking fingerprints.
The Press revealed some schools in York may have been breaking the law by fingerprinting children without the knowledge of their parents, according to national education bosses.
Coun Runciman, executive member for children's services, said: "We have already advised schools to get parental permission and I will be looking at sending out further advice.
"The decision ultimately lies with the schools and their governing bodies however."
Manor School, one of those involved in the controversy, revealed in January that its governors had been asked to assess whether fingerprinting undermined pupils' civil liberties.
Manor was one of more than a dozen schools which The Press revealed to be using library systems that rely upon thumbprint recognition, but one of only two doing so without parental knowledge. The other was All Saints'.
Under the Data Protection Act, schools do not have to seek parental consent to take and store children's fingerprints.
Manor has written to parents explaining the system and offering them the chance to withdraw their children from it.
Head teacher Brian Crosby said only two out of 643 children had since been taken off the system.
Privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner urges schools to seek parental consent.
Speaking in the Lords yesterday, Baroness Walmsley, for Liberal Democrats, said: "The practice of fingerprinting in schools has been banned in China as being too intrusive and an infringement of children's rights. Yet here it is widespread."
Lady Walmsley spoke of one head teacher "tricking" three-year-olds into giving their prints "by playing a spy game".
Warning of the "dangers of identity fraud", she said fingerprinting should be banned unless parents specifically opted into the system.
Lord Adonis replied that, under the Data Protection Act 1998, the children - or, normally, their parents - must be given "fair processing" notices about the data and its proposed use.
The system was "more accessible and less intrusive".