HEAD TEACHERS at schools using fingerprint recognition have defended the system, claiming it is safe and popular.

But one city primary school has already stopped using it, pending the outcome of any debate.

Clifton Green head teacher Sheila Audsley said: "I understand that concern has been raised regarding the use of Identikit software for school libraries.

"Although permission was sought and received from parents to use it, we decided to err on the side of caution, and operate our computerised library system without using the thumb scanner. We have suspended its use for the time being awaiting any outcome to the debate."

The school took the decision after MEP Godfrey Bloom raised ethical concerns.

But other schools said they had no qualms. Here's what they said:

Brian Crosby, head teacher at Manor CE Secondary

"No-one has access to that information. It's in such a form that you cannot access it to take copies of fingerprints.

"We feel it is a very low-level risk. It's speedy, it's efficient and so far, for us, it has been fool-proof, and it has allowed young people to come in and get the books out they want."

Mr Crosby said parents were not informed of the scheme, but were likely to have become aware of it through talking to their children.

He added: "I have not had one complaint from a parent, or a child, or a member of staff. We really have not had a concern, except from outside the school."

Colin Flannigan, head teacher at St Wilfrid's RC Primary

"We give parents the option to opt out, and we have an alternative system for them to run alongside it.

"It's something the children enjoy using. It works very well."

He said there had been maybe one case of a parent opting out, and added: "We look at it as an efficient way of setting up a library, that kids can use efficiently, and something that would spark children's interests off, and it has been helpful in keeping track of books and making sure resources are well looked after.

"I think sometimes these things can get a little out of hand in relating these things to Big Brother."

Jane Nellar, head teacher at Stockton-on-the-Forest Primary

"Security is very, very good - probably tighter than from other assessment systems that are around, because the one we use is a stand-alone one.

"Data on that machine is kept purely on that machine, and the system deletes, at the end of the year, the children who moved on. I have no qualms on security."

She said pupils loved the system, and it was very effective at keeping track of books. She said only one parent had raised concerns in the three years since they launched the system.

She added: "I am aware of people who have expressed concerns, but for us it's very safe and it's a very good system."

Liz Farmery, librarian at St Lawrence's CE Primary

"We have parental permission obviously for them to go on the computer, and we just take the left thumb print."

She added: "The children love it, but it's not very efficient. When they grow, their thumbs grow, so they often do not work. But the children really like it."

She said no parents had objected to the principle, and said nobody other than her had access to the information. She said the data was removed when the children left the school.

Chris Bridge, head teacher at Huntington Secondary

"We have been using the system for more than a year and every student knows the system, and no-one has ever raised it as an issue whatsoever.

"Student ID is not dependent on them having anything with them that they may forget, like a card - you cannot forget your finger. Every child has their finger on them, and you cannot swap fingers."

Mr Bridge also said the system prepared pupils for the world ahead of them.

Ann Burn, head teacher at Yearsley Grove Primary

Ms Burn said a previous card-based system had "ran into all sorts of problems" with children losing cards, or taking out books on class-mates' cards.

She said: "You cannot afford to keep losing books. I was trying to find a more efficient way of managing that system."

The documents released by the council said parental consent was not sought, but Ms Burn said parents were made aware of the system when their children started using it, and said it was a feature she showed to visitors to the school.

She said: "I do not think there's a concern about privacy. We only use it for this library and parents know it's for that."

Yvonne Wilson, head teacher at Archbishop of York Junior

"I think children just see it as something that they use for the library system in school, and parents are always consulted and given the information as to how it works."

She said the scheme was popular with children, adding: "It actually encourages children to take books out of the library. The image of the thumb print is not stored at all - it's simply a number that is generated by their thumb, and the number cannot be used to recreate the image."

A spokesperson for Archbishop Holgate School

"The system in common use in almost all secondary schools is approved by the DfES and approved by police. It involves the storage of no biometric data at all; it simply converts visual information into a unique number which cannot be used to reconstruct any biometric information.

"Pupils and parents are given the right to opt out if they choose and use a card system instead; hardly anybody takes this option. Almost all pupils welcome the simplicity of the system and find it better and easier to use than more traditional methods."

Hugh Porter, head teacher at Joseph Rowntree School

Mr Porter said the system had been in place for over two years and pupils were used to it.

He said: "The system is simply a convenient way for youngsters to log out their library books.

"We don't use it for any other purpose and couldn't even if we wanted to as it doesn't allow us to identify pupils outside the system.

"Children these days are quite happy using this sort of thing and I can see that we are going to get to the stage where iris recognition is used. There is no question of them having their identity taken away from them."

Parents are told about the system in the school brochure.

It's like 1984' says MEP

THE news that children across York are being fingerprinted at school emerged after MEP Godfrey Bloom submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to education bosses.

The results have now been sent to the national Leave Them Kids Alone campaign, which is trying to instigate an open, national debate on the issue.

Speaking to The Press, Mr Bloom said: "We cannot seem to get to the bottom of why you need children's fingerprints.

"I am an old geezer, but we used to have little cardboard cards, and it worked extremely well.

"I cannot help but think there is some secondary objective here by the Government; that they are going to go on on this basis, and that an entire generation has their biometric data on Government file.

"Personally, I find it very disturbing. The pupils using the system will think this is normal procedure - it's the whole 1984 thing really.

"I certainly find that disturbing, because I do not trust the Government with information.

"I do not trust them to know about cross- referencing these things. Who's to say you are not going to be arrested, or cornered by police, because they think it's your fingerprints, and it's actually some homicidal maniac's fingerprints that have been cross-referenced wrongly."

Mr Bloom added: "I would like to see a national debate."

Balance is important

YORK'S education supremo says it is important to strike a balance between civil liberties and making it easier for youngsters to use libraries.

Carol Runciman, right, City of York Council's executive member for children's services, said the authority advised any schools using the system to seek parental consent, but it was up to individual head teachers whether to use fingerprint recognition.

Coun Runciman said: "The civil liberties aspect is interesting. While I would agree that we do not want children to think fingerprinting is an ordinary part of everyday life, fingerprint recognition is not the same as being fingerprinted.

"There is a balance to be struck between a system like that, and making books accessible."

Coun Runciman said she had seen the system in schools, and was confident it was as safe as possible.

She said she would be very surprised if any school were using fingerprint recognition without parents' knowledge.

Schools need permission

Nick Seaton, the chairman of York-based parent lobbying group, the Campaign For Real Education said fingerprinting youngsters was "sinister" and getting them ready for "a Big Brother society".

Mr Seaton said: "Schools should always ask parents permission before they do this sort of thing, but it's indicative of falling standards in society if youngsters' fingerprints need to be taken just to borrow a book. There have to be better ways of doing things than this. It's not a good idea at all and school computer security systems are nowhere near as good as other organisations like the police."

Pam Milner is the member for York and North Yorkshire on the executive of the National Association of School Masters and Women Teachers (NASUWT) and works as a teacher in Bradford.

She said: "In Bradford this system was introduced in 2001 and we haven't had any problems with it that I'm aware of.

"It's only used for registering on the school library system and any staff or pupils that don't want to be fingerprinted don't have to be."