Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Where do we stand on fingerprinting pupils?"

Janette Owen writes today in the Guardian “Where do we stand on fingerprinting pupils.?”

“…what is best practice? What are the legal guidelines? What right does the school have to gather such information? What powers do parents have to withdraw their permission - and do governors have to tell parents?"

...Parents against fingerprinting have set up their own protest site called leavethemkidsalone.com, and Action on Rights for Children, an internet-based children's rights organisation, is also actively campaigning.

"Amazingly, I can find no information or guidance for governors, or teachers, about the use of biometrics in schools. There is nothing on the DfES site, except a link to the parents centre discussion thread, nothing on governornet and nothing on the site of the Information Commissioner's Office, who is responsible for the enforcement of the Data Protection Act.

This is yet another example of the DfES failing to respond to the needs of governors - and all other stakeholders - for information on a topical and developing subject. Why can't the department tackle the issues that are being so hotly debated on its own websites?"

I agree.

These are questions myself, other parents, human and civil rights organisations, county/city councillors and MP’s want the answer to as concerns grow over the use of biometric technology in our schools.

Labour's Education Depatment have given some 'answers' on the biometric issue.

...so, here are the ‘answers’ the government has given after written parliamentary questions put by Nick Gibb, Conservative Schools Minister in February this year, Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson in July and again by Nick Gibb last month:

Feb 2006 - Jacqui Smith: My Department has issued no guidance to schools on the collection and recording of pupils' biometric information. In collecting data of this type the school is likely to rely on the broad powers contained in paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 of the Education Act 2002. This enables a governing body to do anything which appears to them to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of, or in connection with the conduct of the school.

July 2006 - Beverley Hughes: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given on 27 February 2006, Official Report, column 504W, to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). [above]

October 2006 - Jim Knight: The Department has not issued guidance to school governors on whether they should consult parents before implementing a policy of taking thumb prints for library issues… The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) published guidance for schools in 2004 on their obligations and responsibilities under the Data Protection Act and other related legislation.

So then, schools are operating within the "broad powers" of the Education Act and on the advice of a large NGO, BECTA. I sense a severe lack of government advice here on where the Labour Education Department and DfES stands on fingerprinting pupils.

Janette's last sentence in her article says it all -

"We want information about fingerprinting - and we want it now. "

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