Video: Biometric Registration for Ely Students

PUBLISHED: 16:57 10 March 2009 | UPDATED: 10:46 04 May 2010

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SCHOOL registers are out of the window at City of Ely Sixth Form as the college becomes one of the first in the country to use biometric face scanners. A Face Register scans students each morning, saving teachers from ticking boxes manually. In 1.5 seco

One of the students uses the machine

SCHOOL registers are out of the window at City of Ely Sixth Form as the college becomes one of the first in the country to use biometric face scanners.

A Face Register scans students each morning, saving teachers from ticking boxes manually.

In 1.5 seconds the system uses an infra-red light beam to pinpoint distances between the eyes, and their relative distance to other parts of the face.

The computer can be networked and printouts asked for by staff wanting to see if particular pupils are always late, or which sixth formers are present for fire drills.

Hugh Carr-Archer, chief executive of Aurora, the Northamptonshire company who patented the system, said St Neots and City of Ely had been approached to take part in the pilot.

"The feedback we are getting is very encouraging both from pupils and staff," he said.

"Our systems are designed not to be intrusive. Pupils stand in front of the camera and in less than a millisecond the system can tell if you are signing in for a mate."

Students at City of Ely say they enjoy using the new system. "It's quicker than signing in at reception and you can clock in and out when you don't have lessons," said Jeremy Latham. The scanner updates its photo system each time a photo is taken, so if a student grows a beard or comes in wearing a scarf over their face, the computer will still recognise them.

Member of staff Tony Bridgstock tested the scanner at a London education business fair in January, and the school quickly agreed to be part of the pilot. "I have seen great changes in the 34 years I've been teaching," he told the Ely Standard. "There is a great danger that this is technology for technology's sake, but we have had no negative comments since we installed it."

The system which costs around £3,000 per camera, is being linked to the school database by City of Ely's network manager, and although there are no firm plans to use cameras across the school, Mr Bridgstock said increased awareness of child safety, and the numbers of people using the college for community education were all arguments for tightening up access.

Terri Doughty, representative of national research organisation Action on Rights for Children (ARCH) was appalled at the move and said scanners were no substitute for human contact. "Our children are crying out for it," she told the Ely Standard. "Speaking as an ex-teacher, registration is the time to welcome children back after illness, or to notice how they are. You tick the box, and you look up at the child. In that split second you register more than a computer can about a child's welfare."

Ms Doughty questioned how much the computer system was costing the school.

"Why do we need it?," she asked. "That money could have been spent on more books or more teaching assistants. We are in danger of turning our schools into fortresses."

Aurora expects a national or county-wide "roll-out" of the scheme in April, but a county council spokesperson said decisions would be taken by individual schools.

Elsewhere in public services, various forms of electronic sign-in systems are becoming popular. Both St Mary's and Lantern surgeries in Ely ask patients to sign in for their appointments using automated computer systems.

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