Pupils at a Sussex secondary school could soon be paying for their lunch using their fingerprints.

Youngsters at Warden Park School in Cuckfield could also soon be borrowing library books and paying for photocopying by swiping their thumb over a computer screen.

Parents have been invited to share their thoughts on the idea.

The biometric technology could be introduced at the school as early as June if parents support the proposals.

Using pupils' fingerprints in schools has been criticised by many MPs, including Sussex Conservatives Nick Gibb and Tim Loughton, who fear sensitive information about children could fall into the wrong hands.

Mr Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, has said it is another step towards a surveillance society.

VeriCool, one of the companies which provides biometric technology to schools, said the system was safe and efficient.

Warden Park headteacher Steve Johnson said hundreds of schools in the region now used the technology.

He said: "We have decided to consult with parents first to find out what they think.

"Everything is done by swiping your thumb across a screen.

We've been to other schools which use biometric technology to see what it is all about."

A VeriCool spokesman said the information used in the technology is based on converting thumbprints into binary codes which would mean nothing to anyone other than the computer system.

Paul Coase, the business development director, said there were clear guidelines on data security after parents, schools and MPs had pressed the Government to clarify how information would be used.

He said guidelines from the Department for Children, Schools and Families made it clear data could not be passed to any third party organisations.

Mr Coase said: "We received a lot of enquiries on this subject and we welcome the fact the guidelines are in place at last to reassure parents and schools that pupil information is secure and collected by consent."

He said using a cashless system in schools could reduce bullying and children stealing other pupils' dinner money. Parents could top up their children's accounts and monitor what they spent the credit on.

He said this would encourage healthy eating and stop youngsters from buying junk food.

Mr Coase said biometric technology had proven hugely popular with schools who now used it in libraries as well as for catering.

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said schools had collected sensitive data, such as home addresses and registers, for many years before the introduction of biometric technology.

He said: "It is up to each individual school, though, whether they choose to use biometric systems and data.

"Most schools now use it in one form or another.

"It has proven helpful in many situations, such as those who have free school dinners, where it removes the stigma.

"It also helps parents whose children have allergies keep track of what their children have been eating."

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