In a move heralded by some as sign of further encroachments of the Big Brother state, Christopher Hatton School in Northamptonshire has been trialing a system of facial recognition cameras in order to keep an accurate picture of school attendance. The pilot scheme is being rolled out to schools across Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Hertfordshire in an effort to keep on top of students arriving to school late.
The £9,000 system is used to scan the faces of students as they arrive at school, grabbing an image of their face and comparing measurements such as the distance between their eyes, and that kind of thing. The student then just has to enter a four digit PIN code and they are automatically recorded as being present on the school premises.
The technology is interesting, but limited. Civil liberties campaigners have expressed concerns about schools holding “such sensitive information” about their students. Because The Man knowing the length of your nose is a real concern, obviously. Civil liberties campaigners are missing the point. This technology, which works very well in airports where people are used to queuing, breaks down in the context of a UK comprehensive school.
Used to record the details of latecomers only, facial recognition cameras could be a useful tool to cut down on the bureaucracy involved in registering a tardy student as being on the school grounds. The problem, however, is that if authorities tried to use the system as a REPLACEMENT for the old-fashioned register (or roll call, depending on your generation), it would collapse in chaos. At £9,000 a facial recognition camera and PIN keypad can probably do a quick job of registering the odd late student, but what happens when the school bus turns up and fifty or sixty students have to line up to get scanned?
Over the years there have been many attempts to simplify the legal requirement to take a register of children present on school grounds. The simple roll-call register is time-consuming and open to abuse from students answering on behalf of their friends. The various ‘e-register’ systems which supposedly update the school’s central attendance database immediately and reduce the administrative workload generally have limited battery life, clunky keys and a habit of breaking as soon as you pick them up.
This facial recognition technology could play some part in registering isolated latecomers in large schools where administrative staff do not know the names of all the students by sight, but in its present form it is too unwieldy and too expensive to provide a viable alternative to traditional registrations. It remains to be seen whether the use of facial recognition technology will continue in schools, or whether education authorities will try still more methods to track attendance, possibly including contactless smartcards such as the Oyster cards used on London trains and buses.