Monday, September 27, 2021

Facial recognition arrives in UK schools

Facial recognition is emerging in UK schools for canteen payments.  The promise of the technology is "to keep pupils safe from allergies and keep the school Covid secure" and to speed up lunch lines, reducing times from however many seconds it was before, to only 5 seconds per pupil 'serve time' with facial recognition technology.  This new biometric technology is, according to the Business Manager at Kingsmeadow School in Gateshead:

 "...just fast!  Better than fingerprints"

The fortuitous supplier of the emerging facial recognition technology is CRB Cunninghams.

Gosh, even faster than fingerprints!  Wasn't that one of the main reasons to introduce biometric technology two plus decades ago?  Because pupils can't forget a thumb but can forget a 4 digit pin or swipe card, hence a thumb on a scanner is faster, right?  Epic fail fingerprint technology - you're obviously just not fast enough.  (Erm... if students can forget a 4 digit PIN what hope have they of passing any exams if their memory is that bad!   Anyway...)

Then is there is the 'Covid secure' reason.  No need to touch anything at the point of sale.  But then a swipe card ticks those boxes too.  The facial recognition technology even works with a mask/face covering... but then so does a PIN or a swipe card.  Plus the hundreds of students passing through a lunch line will have walked through school corridors, placing their hands on the corridor swing doors to get to the dining hall, etc, so I'm not sure the 'Covid secure' reason stacks up.

Then there's the old bullying issue.  According to Ed Tech providers of cashless catering systems, cash in schools = bullying issues.  Well, if that happens the school must sort it out.  Having cashless catering systems in schools won't solve any bullying issues.  As one Reddit user asks 'how can the computer tell if the person isn't being held there by a bully'?  Good question.


According to this article, describing CRB Cunninghams recent introduction of facial recognition to school lunch lines, "CRB Cunninghams have used biometric data since 2008 on the cashless catering system".  Erm not quite so.  Cunninghams have been supplying fingerprint biometric systems to schools in Angus, Scotland, since 1999 according to a Freedom of Information request (FOIR) answer from Angus Council.  As far as is known, this the first use of biometric technology with children in schools in the UK, Europe, USA, Canada, and the western world.

Angus Council FOIR response, September 2018:

Cunninghams introduced biometric technology in schools 22 years ago, before the technology was being used anywhere else regularly in society.  Now it's seems they are at the forefront today pioneering facial recognition technology. 

Lucky Cunninghams, first for both biometric fingerprint and now commercially viable biometric facial recognition technology for kids in schools.  Though by no means the only supplier now.  

Innovate, supplying Langley Park School for Girls in Bromley.   

Canon Slade School Parent Facial Recognition Pdf in Bolton using Cunninghams, and Murray Park Community School Parent Facial Recognition Pdf in Derby using Realsmart  - Update 20/10/21:  I have been contacted by Realsmart who have stated, "Realsmart do not provide any systems that work with biometrics". I welcome more clarification on this and will post accordingly 

I stated commercially viable earlier, as facial recognition was trialled in 2010 in ten UK schools by Aurora, for registration purposes, in Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire.  It was quickly ditched as it just wasn't fit for purpose.  Clearly the technology has matured and is now deemed fit for use on children in schools.

Legalities and consent

Well, this is where it gets interesting and complex and warrants another post really but for a quick view see here.  I'll expand on this more in another post.

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