School puts a chip on pupils

SECONDARY school pupils are having their "every step traced" under a new monitoring system which sees a microchip embedded in their school uniform.

Currently ten pupils at Hungerhill School in Edenthorpe are having their movements monitored by radio technology, but its Doncaster makers hope the system could soon be attached to every school uniform in the country, if the pilot scheme proves successful.

Under the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) surveillance system the Hungerhill pupils have a memory microchip discreetly embedded onto their school badge which produces a radio signal. It means the pupils can be identified the moment that they step into a classroom. Its inventor, Trevor Darnborough, says the technology has many advantages including; offering accurate and speedy registration of pupils, ensuring child security, providing visual confirmation of attendance to help cover teachers and easy data input for the school's behavioural and reporting system.

But the system, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the country, has been slammed by civil liberty campaigners who believe radio surveillance should only be used on criminals and not on schoolchildren.

David Clouter, a parent who founded the "Leave them kids alone" organisation to oppose the fingerprinting of children in school, said: "To put this in a school badge is complete and utter surveillance of the children. Tagging is what we do to criminals we let out of prison early. With pupils being fingerprinted and now this it seems we are treating children in a way that we have traditionally treated criminals. It's the first time I've ever heard of this happening and I think it's appalling. I'm not sure how it will support personalised learning to track a pupil. You need to know the pupils individually and develop a relationship with them to find out what their needs really are rather than simply chipping them."

Mr Darnborough, who runs Darnbro Ltd, said his product is currently the subject of a patent application but after a "successful trial" at Hungerhill is now ready to have a crack at the 300 million school clothing market.

He said: "The Department for Education and Skills is keen to promote use of electronic registration in schools because of its benefits in efficiently monitoring pupils' attendance and the speedy retrieval and analysis of data. The system saves valuable lesson time, often wasted in registration and monitoring, while ensuring parents of their children's security. And there's the additional benefit of reduced costs in replacing school uniforms that have gone astray.

"We believe the system will work equally well in corporate and commercial scenarios and we're now seeking backing to help us attack a huge potential market, including the 300m annual school clothing spend."

Darnbro state that their product can "trace a pupil's every step during the school day" and that the system can be set up to limit access to doors for certain people at certain times, including shutting the main doors of a school to pupils during classtime.

They stated that schools in the Doncaster area have expressed a keen interest in the product as the government wants to introduce a fully computerised registration system with internet access for parents by 2008.

Hungerhill headteacher Graham Wakeling said: "The school is trialling the project and a variety of tests to measure compatibility with a range of school information management systems are being carried out.

The system is not intrusive to the pupil in the slightest. The benefits are that it provides immediate registration of the pupil as they enter the classroom. This supports staff as they are getting to know pupils.

It also links the pupil directly to the curriculum they are following and specifically to their assessment data. All the information it provides is already stored on the school information management system. The advantage is that it provides immediate access."

He added that the pilot was started in February of this year and all the parents of children involved in the scheme were supportive of it.

Hungerhill chair of governors, Moira Bates, said she was unaware of the project and was not prepared to comment until she had had a meeting at the school.