Biometrics in schools under scruntiy

Ministers have announced that the use of fingerprint and face recognition technology in schools, without expressed consent, is to be banned.  This announcement means that parents will be given the right to veto a school’s use of biometric data, while pupils are also expected to be allowed to refuse to participate.

Figures have suggested that around three in ten secondary schools presently use biometric data as a means of identification, paying for lunch, or to record attendance.  The new guidance from Ministers says that they will be required to ask for written permission from a parent before they collect the students’ biometric data.  However, even if a parent agrees a student would have ground to refuse to take part.

The Protection of Freedoms Act, which gained Royal Assent this month, has changed the advice given by the government on the use of biometric data.  The changes mean that where a pupil or parent refuses to consent then the school or college must provide alternatives.  The advice is currently being consulted on, with the final guide due to be published later this year.

This announcement from the government is a welcomed step forward in granting parents and pupils the power to refuse to use biometric devices in schools.   In many cases it is clear that the real motivation for using finger print scanning or facial recognition is often to build up a database of what one person has been doing, for example allowing parents to see what a child has had for their lunch.  Schools should not be using this intrusive and expensive technology to spy on pupils and these moves will make a real difference to protecting pupil’s privacy.


  1. WieldsOblivion
    15th May 2012

    I was under the impression you could already refuse. I left school two years ago and refused to do it in year 11…they gathered a whole bunch of us in the canteen and were really surprised we said no!

    • Phoenix
      5th July 2012

      I told my son to refuse this system as he does not have school diners however, the school called today as they were forcing the issue and my son was “being dificult”. I explained my position that I felt it was not a system we needed to be part of, they told me it was for paying for all things within school ie trips and uniform. I had no choice but to agree and was offered no alternatives. Why do I have a problem? With the world as it it is today, there is always someone out to be dishonest for personal gain. I wanted reasurance that the computer system that held the data was only accessed by the school with no external internet connection however, they told me that the company will need to hold this information as well and this is the part that worries me. Even the most secure systems in the world get hacked and although the finger print is of no use today, my son will in the future have bank details and such like that may have evolved to use biometrics and the fact is, he is stuck with only one set of prints which may be made available to the wrong sort of people and stored for future use. If the system stored the information within the school and was only accessed by school staff,I would have been happier but I reserve the right to feel anoyed at giving my sons figerprints under pressure and if this means “I need to grow up” then so be it but it is hard to trust your personal details and finger prints to a third party in a world where even the people at the top are being exposed as dishonest.

      • S Khan
        24th November 2012

        I have the same concerns. Well put. My children’s school are introducing biometrics now and intend to take fingerprints in early December. I have already sent an e-mail refusing and have advised my children why they should not give their fingerprints. Let’s see if the school will try to push the issue.

  2. See the bigger picture
    16th May 2012

    So schools are ‘spying’ on pupils by seeing what they had for their lunch??!! What utter dross, the school doesn’t need biometrics to find out what food they are serving up. What about the stigma the kids on free school meals have to endure when it comes to paying for food, with biometrics they don’t have to be singled out as everyone ‘pays’ for their meal in the same way. What about the benefits of cashless payments as parents don’t have to worry about their child’s dinner money being lost or stolen or spent on non-food items. Ok so get written permission off the parents if you must, and then let schools concentrate on education and cut out all the paranoia and bureaucratic red tape nonsense.

    • anon
      16th May 2012

      How is is a cashless system – does no-one pay for school dinners any more? If they do then at some point money needs to change hands – so the biometric system is just a creepy way of acknowledging payment has already been received. There are other ways of doing this – you don’t need to use biometrics. To go way out on a limb I suppose the old fashioned method of trusting kids is ridiculous!

      • See the bigger picture
        16th May 2012

        What LG said. And there’s nothing ‘creepy’ about using technology for the benefit of all, come on grow up!

  3. LG
    16th May 2012

    Whilst I agree that taking fingerprints of children is bad and an infringement on privacy, some of the facts about schools use of biometrics appears to be missing from this article and the comments I’ve seen posted.

    The biometric system we use for our school library does not record actual fingerprints and I’m sure the same is said for most of these types of biometric system. An algorithm converts the patterns into a fairly unique number (sibblings can be an issue if their prints are too similar) it’s this number that is stored and then compared each time they take our a book, or in the terms of cashless catering, purchase food. The ‘prints’ cannot be used to identify a child, they cannot be used

    Cashless catering is cashless in the sense that the child does not need to carry money in order to buy their lunch, a bully can’t exactly take your fingers. Parents top up the accounts online or by sending a cheque to the school, it also removes the stigma of being on free school meals and stops the black market trade in dinner tickets – yes secondary school children sell their free school meal dinner ticket for less than its face value to another child, so they can sneak off down to the chippy.

    • LG
      16th May 2012

       And before anyone asks, Parents were consulted and informed of the process and how it was to be used. Consent is collected before use of biometrics

      • Wake up!
        18th May 2012

        As a parent I wasn’t consulted, we found out via others. In my child’s case it was completely unnecessary as my child didn’t have a school lunch, but took a packed lunch. Despite this, the school said that my child MUST be included, but could take the PIN option. Why?? If they are only monitoring the children’s lunch as purchased from the canteen? In the end we agreed to the PIN option, but on the day the Deputy Head was sat at the other end of the canteen out of view and the contractor from the private company forced my child to hand over their thumb for the print, despite my child stating 3 times that they were not happy to do this and wanted to take the PIN option. What did the school do? Said sorry, but were no help in dealing with the bullying that they had allowed to occur, and what about the private company? Well their office is housed (or was at the time) in an office in the U.S stock exchange in New York. The intranet system used by schools is not secure, there is masses of data mining, which at it’s most innocent is being used to assist corps’s in how to target products to them. This data alone is very valuable, but I don’t see our children getting the benefit of it, do you? Don’t be so naive as to think that the algorithum cannot be traced back and that there personal data cannot be mis-used. You obviously bought the lines given by your local authority and good luck to you, but for your children’s sake, do more research before you hand over their personal information in future, we don’t know what the cost of it will really be yet.

        • LG
          21st May 2012

          It sounds like you have a particular issue with your local school and more specifically your issue lies with the outsourced company. I would highly recommend you take this up with your local authority as that is not acceptable behaviour.

          I work for a school and I installed and configured the system we use. I know what information is available and how it is used – so I have done my research. We use ours for nothing more than managing library books and ensuring that children get fed at lunch times – we even have a built in “1 lunch credit” if their account has run out of money. We opted for biometric rather than card/pin as it is cheaper and easier to manage and there is less of a problem with children forgetting/losing/being bullied.

          In some schools I don’t doubt for a second they have outsourced systems like this, used bullying tactics and not informed parents.

          My point is that not all schools are the same and a blanket statement that schools are collecting fingerprint information is somewhat ill-informed and just the government up to their usual politicians games.

  4. David L
    18th May 2012

    Yet again, the views expressed by commenters here negate some very important aspects that relate intrinsically to the future ambitions of the system of state.

    Few can deny that the education system has more to do with indoctrination and preparing the young for entry into the world of commerce rather than producing self reliant knowledgable youngsters. Social engineering resides at the core of this and one only has to scrutinise the material being taught to establish the political ideology underlying it.

    The conditioning of the human resource into the machine matrix of the commercial construct where these databases hold information on our lives will if allowed ensure an even more profound imposition of slavery, especially in an environment where spin and deceit is tolerated within the system of state and the banking system whilst people suffer the misery of fraudulent economics.

    The suggestion that the information gathered by private contractors and shared through various comptrollers is secure is utter baloney. This we have established by looking at the contractors engaged as the education system is subverted. The pedigree of these enterprises and most importantly what this data is used for should send a strong warning signal to all that have felt or expressed dissent.

    The rejection of this particular imposition is good news, but rest assured, those with the ambitions of complete control will return.

  5. S Khan
    24th November 2012

    Only four days ago my son came home and gave me a leaflet (yes a leaflet – not a letter) informing me that his school is going to take fingerprints of all children at the school in the first week of December. Naturally I was concerned as this is the first I have heard about this. The information provided was vague and gave rise to more concerns. For example there was a paragraph on when the child leaves school and that the data ‘can’ be easily deleted – ‘can’ surely it means ‘will’.

    After reading the leaflet I am not going to let my children have their fingerprints or any other biometric data taken. Who knows how this information will be used? For example take the police. They have a database of fingerprints from people who have committed no crimes; take hospitals under guise of ’tissue samples’ they’ve extracted whole organs; take government officials who lose personal data pertaining to millions of people. Do I feel safe in adding my children’s fingerprints in to the mix? Hell NO!

  6. Tony
    5th June 2013

    I have looked through the chain of comments here, as my daughters school is looking to introduce cashless pay within the canteen (which my daughter has not used at anytime she has been at the school), but there is still an expectation that the biometric image of her finger will still be taken. I am against this and on the question of being ill informed or missing an important point. If it is possible to create a unique number using some form of computer programme it is not beyond the realms of probability that a reverse programme could be developed to reproduce a passable fingerprint (or is the writer unfamiliar with reverse engineering).
    As to being able to delete the data when the child leaves the school there are numerous cases where data has not been deleted as promised including some prominent cases involving actual fingerprints.
    Once data has been created it is often there for ever – even if original files appear to have been deleted – therefore any digital information on an individual – particularly a vulnerable young person should not be allowed and every young persons civil liberties protected.

  7. Karen
    12th November 2013

    I was informed of this via TEXT from the school 2 days ago! Then an email shortly after.
    When I wrote back that I refused on concerns of privacy… The teacher phoned me within seconds and got really shitty with me. She then said my kids could use a card, but if they lost the card I would have to pay £5 for a new one.
    Then today, my son informed me they are doing it tomorrow, and they will not be offered a card or any other option.
    This angered me, as it’s a violation of my and my children’s rights, choices and decisions.
    I found out (don’t know if it’s true, but I wouldn’t be surprised) that all biometric data is beamed up to NASA…
    I’m not having that!
    Poking their nose into our business!!!

  8. Anarchist
    18th February 2014

    To See the bigger picture. Grow up? What you actually mean is “See MY bigger picture”. The concerns voiced by parents are completely legitimate and founded on their concerns over data protection & security. There have been plenty of cases of secure data being misplaced or getting hacked. We live under a fairly benign government atm. Personally I have massive concerns over our current Govs plans to sell patient data to any interested company… However even if you trust our politicians & believe their motives are decent can YOU personally guarantee that will be the case forever? Is it completely inconceivable that we have massive political upheaval in this country as countries all over the world are experiencing right now? Is it totally inconceivable that in our children’s lifetime political events might change and our children’s data could be used against them? I personally think anybody allowing his/her data to be collected is playing a very dangerous game with future events & technology. The historical & current evidence exists for mistrust of governments. Its just a wise precaution to take responsibility for your own data & your own freedoms. I’d say that was pretty grown up. If you want to place your trust in government then go ahead but why belittle and deride those less willing. Their choices do not hurt or hinder you.

  9. Anarchist
    18th February 2014

    LG. Why a finger print to say who’s paid for dinner??? I’m sorry but the sinister implications & clear likelihood of worry amongst parents should have meant this idea was scrapped as a clever idea but clearly WHOLELY inappropriate in a SCHOOL!

  10. Sally
    23rd November 2014

    i have read all the above comments about the concerns and security but has anyone looked into what details schools holds themselves on their management system? I am led to believe that if this system was broken into then our childrens full details are available – as well as home address, email addresses, next of kin, photos and medical details. who cares about the bio metric print – anyone who can access these details have enough information on our children.

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