Schools to be banned from taking pupils' fingerprints without parents' consent30 per cent of secondary schools use fingerprinting
Schools will have to ensure data from pupils is treated with careCivil liberties campaigners welcome the ban
09:17 GMT, 24 December 2012
Schools minister David Laws says the ban will give parents all the power over personal data
Schools are to be banned from collecting pupils' biometric data without the consent of parents, it was announced yesterday.
Hundreds of secondary schools in England use fingerprints or face recognition systems for the issuing of library books or to allow pupils to enter certain buildings.
Last night Michael Gove's Department for Education said that from next September, schools will be forced to obtain parental permission before taking fingerprints.
The ban will also cover the use of data for face recognition as well as iris and retina scanning.
According to the DfE, approximately 30 per cent of secondary schools and 5 per cent of primary schools use fingerprinting or face-scanning systems for a number of reasons, including recording attendance, allowing pupils to check out library books, pay for lunch or accessing buildings.
Youngsters place their thumbs on a scanner and money is deducted from their lunch account, or they are registered as borrowing a book.
Schools minister David Laws said: 'Many parents do not want schools and colleges collecting personal information from their children without permission.
'These tough new rules will mean that, for the first time, parents will have the power to stop schools from using their child's biometric data – like fingerprinting or facial recognition – unless they agree first.'
The new provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 will apply to all England's schools, sixth form colleges and further education institutions where education is provided to children.
Schools will have to make sure any data collected from pupils is treated with the appropriate care, and make alternative arrangements for children who refuse to have their data taken.
Three years ago, children at a comprehensive school in north west London were 'frogmarched' to have their fingerprints taken without their parents being consulted.
The collection of biometric data was part of a new cashless system to pay for lunches at Capital City Academy in the borough of Brent.
One mother said: 'My son was frogmarched by one of the teachers to be fingerprinted even though he did not want to.
'I was just furious. There has been no consultation with the parents. They just went ahead and did it.'
Fingerprinting is already a common practice in schools
The school was forced to apologise and wipe all the data. It then collected fingerprints again, but this time only from pupils whose parents consented.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has spoken out against the collection of biometric data without consent.
The union passed a motion against it in 2010.
Hank Roberts, an ATL executive member, said at the time that civil liberties were being eroded, adding: 'It's completely and fundamentally wrong.'
Azra Haque, a teacher in Brent, added: 'Today's children are in general much more closely monitored than previous generations. We need a strong and explicit law in this regard.'
Last night Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, welcomed the government's announcement.
'This is very positive news for parents concerned about the explosion in the desire of schools to track and log pupils in increasingly intrusive ways,' he said.
'The important point is that a huge number of schools will have already installed this technology before this change and they must not be allowed to ride roughshod over parental concerns.'