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School adopts fingerprint canteen

EDP 24 | June 22, 2007

Fingerprint recognition systems and mathematical algorithms may sound like something from a hi-tech spy film.

But for pupils at a Lowestoft school, they are to become simply part of the daily routine of ordering their school dinners.

The new technology is part of a “cashless catering” drive, giving students the opportunity to pay on account and avoid the daily scramble for dinner money.

From next Tuesday, Kirkley High School will use biometric fingerprinting to identify each of the school's 1300 pupils when they make their food orders.

Once pupils' digits have been scanned, canteen staff will have instant access to their account which will be pre-paid by their parents, or topped up at “reval” machines in the school.

Parents will be able to control the amount of money available and even place conditions on what kind of food their children should be eating.

Yesterday, pupils from years nine, 10 and 12 had their right index fingers scanned, and saw their fingerprints converted into a mathematical algorithm to be stored on the system.

The school's IT manager, Toby Hacker, said: “The scan plots up to 45 points on the fingerprint, then turns them into a long, unique number, like a barcode.

“Only this number will be stored, not the image itself, so there can be no worry of anyone passing fingerprint information on.

“We believe we're one of the first schools in this area to use this technology.”

The system will also allow parents to monitor the food choices of their children through a database stored in the computer's memory.

Headteacher, John Clinton, said: “We are a sports college, so developing healthy lifestyles for our students is a particular issue for us.

“The cashless catering system gives us the ability to influence where they eat and what they eat.

“We would introduce the controls very gently, but ultimately it will be the parents who control what their children's diet is.”

Starting from next autumn's year nine intake, pupils will also be banned from leaving the site at lunchtime to restrict their access to fast food.

Students had mixed opinions on the new regime.

Fifteen-year-old Tom Tillett, of Old Farm Road, Lowestoft, said: “It is a good idea that people don't have to carry money around.

“If you had £20 at the start of the week you might just waste it all.”

Laura French, 15, of Salisbury Road, Lowestoft, said: “I think it is a bad idea. People should be able to eat what they want.”

The pioneering new meals system, developed in partnership with Suffolk County Catering, marks the first step towards a potential £5m redevelopment of the school's canteen.

Deputy headteacher, John Shanahan, said: “We are working closely with Suffolk County Council to create a brand new, state-of-the-art, eco-friendly dining space.

“The school strongly believes that the dining experience is central to the life of the school, and that the experience could and does affect the ethos and culture of the school.”

As well as the security benefit of removing the need for cash in school, it is also hoped that the system will create equality among pupils at meal times, as students claiming free meal entitlements could have their accounts credited anonymously.

The cashless revolution in the region's schools was first reported by the EDP in March, when Taverham Middle School in Norwich became one of the first in the county to launch a pay-on-account service.

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