A Snapshot of Client Queries
We’ve picked a few of the most interesting questions we’ve dealt with since our last issue, which may be useful if you ever find yourself in a similar situation at your school.
QUESTION: “Do we have to get parental consent for fingerprints for post-16 students if we use biometrics in school?”
The government guidance Protection of biometric data of children in schools and colleges states:
If a pupil or student under 18 objects or refuses to participate (or to continue to participate) in activities that involve the processing of their biometric data, the school or college must ensure that the pupil/student’s biometric data is not taken/used as part of a biometric recognition system. A pupil’s or student’s objection or refusal overrides any parental consent to the processing. Section 26 and Section 27 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 makes no reference to a lower age limit in terms of a child’s right to refuse to participate in sharing their biometric data.
Schools and colleges should also take steps to ensure that pupils and students understand that they can object or refuse to allow their biometric data to be taken/used and that, if they do this, the school or college must provide them with an alternative method of accessing relevant services. The steps taken by schools and colleges to inform pupils and students should take account of their age and level of understanding. Parents should also be told of their child’s right to object or refuse and be encouraged to discuss this with their child.
Once a student is 18 years old they will be considered an adult and as such parental consent is no longer relevant.
QUESTION: “In a TA meeting, I had a query about hot drinks in classrooms but I can't find the Health and Safety document that has this info and it doesn't seem to be in the staff handbook.”
Currently there are no DfE or HSE restrictions regarding having kettles or hot drinks in classrooms. However, Handsam would strongly recommend that kettles should only be used in classrooms which have a secure cupboard or storeroom in which they must be kept and only be filled with enough water for the immediate task. The principal is at liberty to rule that when consuming a hot beverage in the classroom or in the school ground, a ‘spill-proof’ mug with a wide base and a tight-fitting lid is used to reduce the risk of spilling and subsequent scalds. If a flask is to be used, that too must be kept securely away from students for as long as it contains hot liquid.
Kettles in classrooms must be treated with extreme caution as this 2007 case shows: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-484516/Boy-7-attacked-kettle-boiling-water-class.html
QUESTION: “We have a false widow spider in one of our classrooms - should we close the school until it has been dealt with?”
The Natural History Museum states:
False widows are not the deadly spiders they are sometimes thought to be.
Although false widows do have a venomous bite, the venom is not particularly potent. Usually, the only symptom is pain at the site which may radiate away from the bite. It ordinarily lasts between one and 12 hours, and rarely for more than 24 hours.
Often, the symptoms are no worse than the pain of a wasp sting.
Males are more prone to biting. But this is only because they leave the nest in search of a mate, often venturing indoors looking for females. They are only known to bite when provoked or trapped against skin.
There is often hysteria surrounding these spiders, and they have unjustly earned a reputation for being a dangerous pest, but these spiders only bite when they feel threatened.
There is much good advice and guidance on the Fantastic Pest Control website.
The charity Buglife describes the false widow spider as a ‘ponderous, solitary and non-aggressive spider’ with a bite at the severity level of a nettle or bee sting.
If the problem is deemed severe enough through risk assessment to bring in an exterminator or impose restrictions, that is at the schools discretion. It is ultimately the decision of the Head Teacher to decide whether the site is at risk.
However the nature of the spider and the negligible danger, in Handsam’s opinion would not necessitate a closure. Nor is it necessary to bring in extermination. The arachnid can be released and a check made by a site team for evidence of infestation.
It is important to demonstrate positive environmental attitudes to pupils and the ready destruction of a small creature seems excessive, as does closing the site for something no more dangerous than a wasp. The cases referred to were widely derided and criticised for their rash response.