Biometrics Coming to British Schools?

A government agency offers advice on how schools can use the advanced ID technology for automated attendance and other purposes

Schools have been offered guidance on how to implement biometric technology.

The advice from the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) is aimed at those involved in introducing biometric tech into schools - such as head teachers and governing bodies -- to guide them on how to successfully implement these systems without compromising personal information.

Biometric tech can take the form of fingerprint, retina, iris pattern, voice and even face shape recognition.

Fingerprint recognition is already used in a number of schools for a range of uses such as cashless catering where meals are paid for in advance and charged for using biometric tech at the till.

The benefits of this include speeding up the service in canteens and removing the need for children to carry money, minimising the risk of bullying or theft.

As children don't need to remember money or a smartcard, costs for replacing cards could also be reduced.

Automated attendance is another good use of biometrics for schools identified by Becta. It could allow pupils to register at the school gate, saving staff time and also preventing unauthorised access into school grounds.

This use of biometrics would also stop pupils registering for friends who are playing truant.

Becta points out that although use of biometrics is covered in the 2002 Education Act - which allows for tech to improve the provision of facilities or services - there are legal issues to bear in mind.

The Data Protection Act 1998 means schools have to treat pupil information with care and make sure parents and pupils are aware of how personal information is used.

To comply schools must not hold excessive information and ensure what biometric information they do have is secure, accurate and kept no longer than necessary.

Pupil and parent consent is another issue which schools need to address with the usual involvement of pupils and parents encouraged when making decisions about biometric schemes.

Becta advises schools to consider what systems are most appropriate and also the concerns of parents. This could include reassuring parents that data won't be passed onto third parties and that it will be destroyed when pupils leave the school.

The possibilities of some parents choosing to opt their children out of the biometric system should also be accounted for, Becta advises, with alternative processes available.

The guidance was developed in conjunction with Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Information Commissioner's Office.

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