School. I remember it well, even if it was a long time ago. Turn up at 9 a.m. and go home at 3:15 p.m. with lots of fantastic learning in between. Of course it wasn’t like that for all my classmates. They didn’t all take pride in a 100% attendance record or academic results and their behaviour reflected that.
In fact, I can still vividly remember three boys in particular who used to turn up for morning registration and then disappear for the rest of the day. They got away with it for a considerable amount of time too. Once you’d been registered in the morning there were no further checks on attendance throughout the day and it was easy to slip away, pop back for dinner in the canteen and then disappear again.
Nowadays though playing truant, even for part of the day, is getting harder as many schools place a far greater emphasis on checking pupil’s attendance and whereabouts during the day. This isn’t a bad thing in my opinion but does it does lead onto other issues of concern, as evidenced by a new report from Big Brother Watch.
In a world where the majority of people are either having their privacy destroyed by the state, or are willfully throwing it out with social networks, it may not seem that outrageous any more to learn that schools are getting in on the act.
The civil liberties group have now discovered, through the use of Freedom of Information Requests, that around 40% of schools in England may be employing biometric technology on pupils. From 3,000 requests the group’s research shows that almost one in three schools began collecting such data without consulting parents. Fortunately, non-early adopters are now subject to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 which requires parental consent in respect of biometric data collection from any pupil under the age of eighteen.
Based on the set of data at its disposal, Big Brother Watch discovered that 866,000 schoolchildren in the UK had their fingerprints taken in 2012-2013 and hypothesises that the count may now be well in excess of one million pupils.
But just why are schools employing such technology in the first place?
When I was still in shorts and spending my day flicking rubbers at other kids it was perfectly normal to break my day up by visiting the library and taking a book out with just a note recorded in a book. I could also eat my dinner without any oversight whatsoever, left to enjoy my semolina pudding (yuck!) without the staff knowing whether I’d eaten it or secretly thrown it in the bin again.
Our kids, however, are being spied on, whether that is intentional or not. Lists of library books and school meals are stored on databases, some of which even the parents can access via the web. Our children are recorded in and out of school and absences and tardiness are spotted almost immediately. Whilst some of that is information that parents arguably need to know, it is still very much over the top in my opinion.
At a time when invasions of privacy are not so much creeping into society but rather steamrolling right through it, are our educational establishments trying to create a future generation that sees this as normal and acceptable behaviour?
I sincerely hope not and I am glad to hear that none of my kids have ever been subjected to any biometric technologies in their respective schools.
I’ve also reminded them that the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 means that they can, and should, refuse to agree to such without getting consent from either myself or their mother. Furthermore, I’ve also explained how they have the right to choose themselves – the Act gives children the option of opting out of biometrics themselves, irrespective of what their parents may have chosen on their behalf.
Does the use of biometrics within the schooling system concern you too? Have your children already been fingerprinted as part of such a scheme (its not too late to write to their schools and opt out if they have)?
Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said:
“As the new school term gets underway, now is the time for parents to check if their children are among the hundreds of thousands of pupils who are using biometric technology.
“Going to school should not mean kids are taught they have no privacy, especially at a time when we are sharing more data about ourselves than ever before. Fingerprinting them and tracking what they do might save some admin work but the risk is pupils think it is normal to be tracked like this all the time. Schools need to be transparent about what data is being collected and how it is used.
“Parents will be rightly concerned to hear so many schools did not seek their permission to fingerprint their children, while pupils may not have been made aware they now have a legal right to ask to use a system that doesn’t require a fingerprint to be taken. The Government was right to change the law but it’s up to parents to make sure the law is being followed.”