Pupils can be tracked round town with chips

23rd November 2007 at 00:00

Civil liberty groups take dim view of experiment that could go nationwide

Children are to be tracked around schools and other sites they visit for lessons via microchips embedded in their uniforms.

The manufacturer of a radio-frequency identification chip is marketing it nationwide following a trial with 19 pupils at Hungerhill School in Doncaster this year.

The chip is embroidered into school jumpers using conductive "smart threads". This allows a pupil's identity, photographs and other details, such as whether they misbehaved in their last lesson, to flash up on the nearest teacher's laptop or hand-held computer.

Doncaster Education City, a 14-19 education partnership, will begin a 15-week trial of the chips next week with 36 autistic pupils.

They will be scanned at the college and again at a local leisure centre to ensure their safe arrival.

The chips will allow Doncaster College and leisure supervisors to swap information about pupils: their special needs, behaviour and progress. Paul Silvester, the project manager, said that if the trial was successful the local authority could use chips for pupils travelling around for their diplomas next year.

Mary Turner, a uniform manufacturer and governor at Norbury Manor Girls' School in Thornton Heath, Surrey, is working to set up a school-wide trial.

"My first reaction was, `It's Big Brother, I don't like it'," she said. "But it's not intrusive. It's just keeping track of them in school."

The chips have drawn criticism from civil liberties groups, who say they go beyond ID cards and CCTV.

David Clouter, from Leaveshy;Themshy;KidsAlone, a campaign group, was appalled by the idea. "Tagging is what we do to criminals we let out of prison early," he said.

Josie Appleton, convener of the Manifesto Club, a civil liberties group, said the chips were an attempt to relate to children through surveillance, when what they needed was "ordinary human concern".

But Graham Wakeling, head of Hungerhill School, said he did not believe the chips infringed civil liberties and he would never allow tracking beyond the school gates.

"I think such chips have the potential to improve management systems in schools, and in so doing enhance learning," he said.

The chips have been developed by Darnbro Ltd, which was set up by a school uniform companynbsp;that worked with Andy Stewart,nbsp;an ICT teacher at Hungerhill School.

Schools can fit scanners to doors or equip teachers with hand-held scanners to identify children entering or exiting rooms.nbsp;

The Department for Children, Schools and Families supports the use of electronic registration to improve safety and security and reduce truancy.

"This does not mean schools logging every detail of every pupil via covert means," a spokesman said.


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