Staff may face fingerprinting

November 28, 2003

All applicants for jobs in higher and further education involving contact with under-18s will have to be fingerprinted if plans by the Criminal Records Bureau get the go-ahead, writes Chris Johnston.

The proposal is contained in a third and final consultation paper from the Home Office. It would affect thousands of applicants for jobs, who currently require clearance from the bureau to ensure they have no convictions that make them unsuitable to work with children and young people.

Trainee teachers and nursing students would also be required to give their prints, either at a police station or another facility.

The idea is that fingerprinting would provide a better match between applicants and criminal records, if they have one, and reduce mistakes. The paper admits there are errors, where an applicant is matched with the wrong record, but these are rare, as low as 0.04 per cent.

Lecturers' union Natfhe and the National Union of Students have criticised the initiative. Christiane Ohsan, Natfhe's higher education official, said the union opposed the idea for a number of reasons, not least the effect it might have on recruitment.

"I cannot see how prospective staff would want to go to a police station to have their fingerprints taken," she said. "According to statistics, mistakes are rarely made."

There was also the question of cost, she said - would applicants or institutions pay? - as well as the additional bureaucracy that would follow. The CRB said institutions could buy their own scanning machines, which cost £12,000, as an alternative to sending people to police stations.

The CRB paper acknowledges likely resistance to the proposal. "There may be concern, even for the most law-abiding, as to what use might be made of their fingerprints in the future."

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