SCHOOLS in York may have been breaking the law by fingerprinting children without the knowledge of their parents, according to national education bosses.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said the practice could breach the Data Protection Act.

The DfES is now to issue guidance to schools on the collection and use of biometric data.

Manor CE School, one of those involved in the controversy, welcomed the news, but also revealed that its governors had been asked to assess whether fingerprinting undermined pupils' civil liberties.

Manor CE was one of more than a dozen schools which The Press revealed earlier this month 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' RC.

Yorkshire MP Greg Mulholland said he had been advised fingerprinting children at all could also contravene the Children Act 2004, the UN Convention On The Rights Of The Child and the 1998 Human Rights Act.

Since our first reports, Manor CE, has written to parents explaining the system and offering them the chance to withdraw their children.

Head teacher Brian Crosby said only two out of 643 children had since been taken off the system.

He added: "I would welcome guidance from the DfES on the way forward. We feel we have had to go forward in quite a haze, in good faith, without any clear instructions as to what is good practice."

Mr Crosby said the practice conformed to the Data Protection Act, but a DfES spokesman said that was dependent on parents being informed.

The spokesman said: "As a general rule, the Data Protection Act requires schools to tell every parent of pupils under the age of 12 and the parents of pupils over the age of 12, plus the pupils themselves, what personal information they have on record and how they will use it."

The spokesman said schools were allowed to record and store data helpful to running the school, but they had to adhere to the Data Protection Act.

He said guidance was now to be issued to schools and councils specifically on fingerprinting.

In a letter to Mr Mulholland, education minister Jim Knight said: "We are currently working with Becta (British Education Communications and Technology Agency) and with the office of the Information Commissioner to update guidance including around the use of biometric technologies."

Mr Mulholland and fellow Liberal Democrats welcomed the announcement, but dubbed it a "U-turn". Madeleine Kirk, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the new York Outer constituency, said: "I have been following, with concern, the recent reports about the fingerprinting of schoolchildren. I am sure that many other readers will share my concerns, particularly since some of the fingerprints have been taken without parents' knowledge."

She added: "Ministers should not have allowed schools to continue this potentially illegal behaviour for so long without stepping in. The delay in issuing guidance has been unacceptable and has led to unnecessary concern for many people. However, this guidance is better late than never and will, hopefully, provide some reassurance for the parents of children at York schools."

The schools said the systems were safe and popular with children. But Phil Booth, national co-ordinator of No2ID, said it was "conditioning" children to grow up in a society where fingerprinting seemed normal.