Friday, September 01, 2006


Wotta laugh!

A pioneering comprehensive known for progressive, liberal policies has upset parents by seeking to fingerprint every one of its 1,500 pupils when they return from their summer holidays next week. Holland Park school wants to build a database so that children turning up late can be identified and their time of arrival recorded in a "live register" by pressing a finger on an electronic pad. The school has spent 4,500 pounds on technology to build the database of pupils' prints.

Parents and local councillors, however, have complained that the system to control truancy may breach the pupils' human rights because the information could be passed to the police. Voluntary fingerprinting has become widespread in schools, especially for taking out library books. Eton college introduced a fingerprint system last year to identify pupils old enough to drink in its Tap bar. Pupils aged 17 can drink one pint of beer if they buy food but they have to register with a fingerprint.

Holland Park school, which opened in 1958, was one of the first comprehensives in Britain and was once dubbed the "Eton of comprehensives". Many of its pupils come from rough council estates, while others are drawn from the liberal elite in the expensive streets of Holland Park and Notting Hill, for whom the school became a magnet in the 1960s. Hilary Benn, the international development secretary, was sent there by his father Tony. Other celebrity parents have included Lady Antonia Fraser, the historian, and the late film director John Huston.

However, the school's latest move is seen as far from progressive. It is believed to be one of the first schools to seek to fingerprint every pupil in an effort to monitor their whereabouts. If late arrivals fail to press a pad at the gates or in a classroom, they will be recorded as absent.

Marianne Alapini, a local Labour councillor, said she had spoken to 15 worried parents. "We cannot understand the rationale behind this," she said. "It raises all sorts of questions about human rights, data protection and child protection." Mohammed Abdul-Saaka, vice-chairman of the borough's police consultative group, who has raised the issue with Liberty, the civil rights organisation, said: "This has been done without any consultation and has opened a Pandora's box of complications."

Renate Stewart, 16, a pupil leaving the school after taking her GCSEs, said: "I think that the school does so many things to try to improve its image but they should be spending this money on things which inspire the students. That might make the students feel better about being at school. "It does make you feel as if you are some kind of criminal."

Conservative-led Kensington and Chelsea council, which runs the school, said pupils would have one finger scanned and this information would be converted into a code number that would be recorded and registered when a pupil placed a finger on the reader. A council spokesman said: "This is not fingerprinting of the type associated with the police. The ability to record student attendance enhances the school's efforts to ensure a safe and secure environment for all students and staff." He said no records would be kept of the scan and the data would not be shared. However, if the police asked if a pupil was in school on a particular day, the school would tell them.


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