The Department for Education and Skills is to reconsider the fingerprinting of school children after a four year campaign by parents.
Jim Knight, schools minister, told Greg Mulholland, campaigning LibDem MP for Leeds North West, in a letter sent on 12 December, that he would "update the guidance on the use of biometric technologies" by schools.
The letter said that the DfES had called for help on the guidelines from BECTA, the technology procurement quango, and the Information Commissioner.
A spokesman for Mullholland said that the DfES had persistently said in answer to Parliamentary questions that school fingerprinting would not be reviewed. But now, he said: "This is a U-turn."
The DfES today issued a statement saying: "This is not a U-turn," and that it was always revising and improving its guidance, after The Sun today published an article saying the government had done a u-turn on school fingerprinting and started to draw up some guidance.
Knight, The Sun claimed, had "agreed to draw up strict guidelines with watchdogs", and that he understood parents' concerns. The Sun's report was wrong, said the DfES, and Jim Knight himself had said so.
The anti-school fingerprinting campaign bus had all but reached the gates of Westminster anyway. Pippa King, a lead campaigner against school fingerprinting, and David Clouter, who runs the group Leave Them Kids Alone, have meetings scheduled next week with the Libdem MP Sarah Tether, Conservative MP Nick Gibb and Labour MP Tom Watson.
Terry Dowty, spokeswoman for Action on Rights for Children, said the government needed to do more to reassure parents than merely issue guidelines about the non-consensual fingerprinting of school children.
"Guidelines are just not good enough," she said, "The whole thing needs a much fuller debate. Given that parents have strong feelings about this, you can't just say, we've done a review and decided that these are the rules. There must be a proper debate."
Simon Davies, a director of campaign group Privacy International, said it had taken four years to get the government to budge on school fingerprinting.
"When we first broke the story to The Times in 2002, the Information Commissioner refused to recognise it had a responsibility and schools just went into collaboration with industry," he said.
The DfES said in a statement: "Schools have always had to comply with human rights, data protection and confidentiality laws in collecting data on their pupils."
"We already provide specific guidance to schools on handling all pupil information under the Data Protection Act," it added.®