Principal apologises after Fenland school fingerprints children without parents’ consent

SCHOOL Principal Jason Wing has apologised for the “teething problems” which saw children’s fingerprints taken for a new system without parents’ knowledge or consent.

Outraged parents criticised Neale-Wade Community College, in March, for not telling them the prints were being taken as part of a new scheme to automate library visits and allow cashless lunches.

But Mr Wing said that the “usual lines of communication” had been restricted due to complications caused by the Building Schools for the Future improvement work.

Stuart and Jane Webb, from March, were shocked when their children, Alice, 14, and Isaac, 15, returned from school last week to tell them they had been fingerprinted.

“All we want is to be kept informed,” said Mr Webb. “With something as personal and sensitive as this, I think there’s no excuse for not doing that.

“I’ve got no issue with the taking of that personal information, if it’s managed correctly, but surely parents should be made aware that it’s happening.

“My concern is how many other parents out there still don’t know? How many kids haven’t told them?

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“The police can’t take fingerprints without due cause and they certainly can’t take them from minors without parental involvement. So if the police can’t, then how can a school?”

Mrs Webb added: “What are the prints going to be used for? When they leave school will they still have access to them? There are probably really good answers to these questions but we don’t know them because they haven’t told us.”

Mr Wing said that - following our investigation - letters had gone out to inform parents of the biometric system, which will “improve efficiency in the college library and canteen”.

He said parents had “nothing to worry about” as fingerprints were stored as numbers and would be destroyed when students leave school.

“Parents will be kept fully informed as the system comes into operation,” he said.

“The organisation for the system to be implemented was prior to my appointment at the college and we did not anticipate the problems that we experienced with the move into the new buildings.

“The new buildings are fantastic and we are delighted with the excellent new teaching areas that we now have but we have experienced some complications with the ICT provision which has restricted our usual lines of communication.

“These teething problems have now been addressed and I want to assure the parents and carers of our students that I am committed to improving and enhancing communication to take into account their views.

“We recently sent out 700 pre-prepared questionnaires to a random selection of our parents in order to determine their views.”

Mr Webb, who used to sit on the school’s parent consultation panel, said he had heard from other families that some younger children had been upset by the fingerprinting.

“Everything that society tells children is that the reason for fingerprints is criminal activity,” he said.

“You’ve got 11-year-old children who’ve gone up to a new school, that’s big and daunting, and they’re suddenly having their fingerprints taken.

“Who knows what they’re thinking at that age?”

The fingerprint system is one that has been rolled out at schools across the country.

Mr Webb added: “They should have postponed the fingerprints until letters could go out to parents.

“I can’t take photographs when I support my son at football matches because of the strict rules. These are strict rules for security but when there’s something the other way round they’ve managed to bypass it.”