Students made to carry ‘Orwellian’ locater tags
By Stephen Adams, Medical Correspondent
Last Updated: 4:33PM BST 11/05/2012
College staff and students have been issued with compulsory electronic badges that are capable of tracking their movements, leading to criticism of “Orwellian” tactics.
The devices can track wearers within 10 feet, but managers at West Cheshire College have denied they will be used for “Big Brother” surveillance.
The vocational college, which has one campus in Ellesmere Port and another in Chester, serves about 2,500 full time students and 5,000 part-timers. Most are teenagers. Only staff and full-time ‘learners’, as they are called, are required to have the badges.
Kevin Francis, the college’s building services manager, said the aim was to provide automatic registration and improve use of the estate. Students must wear them to register and to be able to access different areas.
Mr Francis told the Times Educational Supplement: “We do have these tags, but they’re not for the purposes of tracking. The aim is to use to able to use the buildings as efficiently as possible.
“We are interested in teaching and learning, building use and the security of students and staff. We’re not Big Brother.”
However, Lynn Collins, from the University and College Union, which represents staff, responded: “This sounds like some sort of Orwellian nightmare that will do little to enhance standards and simply advance an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust.”
Although Mr Francis said that location information would be anonymised, it can be individualised too. Staff with first aid training can be identified if needed in am emergency, he stated.
However, he said he was “confident” that the data “couldn’t be used maliciously”.
“We are not allowed to do anything with data that we have not been upfront about,” he told the TES.
“We are very clear about the rights of users and we don’t breach them.”
No staff or student representatives had complained about them during prior discussions, he added.
A spokesman for the college added: “The system is an electronic form of registration which we use to track individual learning hours.
“As well as reducing the time students spend on registration, we use this information for funding purposes, tailoring learning to individual needs and for us to make best use of our vocational learning facilities.
“The system is also used for access around the College ensuring the safety of all our students.”
West Cheshire College was ranked as ‘good’ by Ofsted in 2010.
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