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Headmaster justifies fingerprinting pupils

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The headmaster of Porth County Comprehensive School in South Wales has defended fingerprinting all 1,400 of his pupils days after their parents were told about the scheme last Wednesday.

Children had their fingers scanned for a system that will replace the old fashioned school register with biometric scanners in every class room.

Parents campaigning against having schools take their childrens' fingerprints have complained that it is being done without their consent, and sometimes without their knowledge.

Porth County Comprehensive headmaster Stephen Bowden told El Reg: "As far as we were concerned, it wasn't necessary for us to seek parental consent in this. It's a system that has been approved by the DfES and it's supported by Capita SIMS."

Pupils at the school were given letters about the fingerprinting to take home to their parents last Tuesday and Wednesday.

"All the parents received a letter at the beginning of term asking them to contact us if they had any concerns. We had a couple of parents call...when we explained the procedure and the reasons why they were happy with that," said Bowden.

"There are 1,400 students in the school and we had two phone calls...the parents were perfectly happy."

The system, called Vericool, was developed by Anteon, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, a firm that specialises in developing systems for the military and intelligence services.

It will register children for lessons by scanning their fingers when they enter a classroom at the start of a lesson.

Bowden said it would give the school a means of "effective administration" and help in "reducing the bureaucratic burden" of staff taking registrations themselves. It had cost the school £25,000.

"By the time I've put this together, I can assure any parent that their child is safely in school and on the premises...or we can purely or simply track students to see if attendance affects their progress," he said.

But Bowden said he would not know how much more efficient the system would be than a manual register until after its installation was complete in January.

David Clouter, a campaigner at Leavethemkidsalone.com, said experts had reported on his site that the fingerprinting systems being used by schools were so unreliable that manual registers would still have to be taken to assure the location of pupils in the event of a fire.

He also said that taking the register was an important way for teachers to establish contact with each individual pupil at the start of a class.

Terri Dowty, a former teacher and director of Action on Rights for Children (ARCH) told the Guardian in March: "When I was teaching, attendance-taking was an important part of the day. You would call the name, look up, and make eye contact - notice them for a second. It was an important human part of the day."®

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