Across the UK, schools gather a wealth of sensitive data; from health and medical information, to demographic details, personal addresses and more.
Ensuring that this data is stored, managed and secured effectively is paramount, and is part of a school or trust’s duty of care not only to their students, but their employees, too.
Yet securing data is a complex endeavour, and the consequences when it goes wrong can be severe.
According to an audit carried out in 2022 by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the National Grid for Learning (LGfL), over three-quarters of UK schools (78%) have experienced at least one type of cyber-incident.
In fact, in January 2023, 14 schools had highly confidential documents leaked online by a hacking group called Vice Society after a ransomware attack. The data contained in these documents included children’s SEN information and children’s passport scans, along with staff contract and pay details.
To truly ensure that children’s personal and identifying information is protected, schools and trusts must not only be able to store data securely, but also understand what data they hold, which systems require access, how it is used and why they hold it.
For instance, some of the most sensitive data a school holds often comes from lunch services. Over the years, the use of biometric information such as fingerprints during lunch has become something of a mainstay in schools.
The move has certainly had its advantages for schools, their students and their parents; lunch queues move faster, parents have a greater oversight of how their children are spending their lunch money, and the removal of the need to exchange physical money can help to reduce the stigma for those on free school meals.
However, using biometric data also presents a significant risk.
If such data was stolen, there is little you can do to reverse the damage. Unlike PIN numbers or codes that can be replaced or changed, a fingerprint remains the same. Once that information is lost, the damage is done.
The question is, how do schools ensure their catering data is secure and reduce the safeguarding risk such sensitive data poses?
There have long been fears that the use of biometrics in schools is normalising surveillance, and while schools may follow privacy procedures strictly, there is also the potential risk of someone gaining unauthorised access to this data.
Schools using biometric systems may find themselves fielding more and more questions and concerns from parents about the ethics of using biometric data in this way.
In fact, some may be unhappy with the basic principle of taking a child’s fingerprint in this way.
And should the school make changes to how it operates these systems, for example, moving from fingerprints to facial recognition, without notifying parents, this is likely to cause breaches in trust.
The same goes for the increasing move to cloud-based systems by schools; many parents are not comfortable with the idea that their child’s information is held on a database away from the school premises. Neither of these points solve the underlying issue; the system still relies upon sensitive, biometric data.
Cashless catering requires more than technology to run effectively. It also needs the goodwill of parents. Without this, the risk for schools is that they lose the trust of parents and the whole process of managing school meals becomes more fraught and costly.
Invented in Japan in 1994, the Quick Response - or QR - code is certainly no new kid on the block. And yet, they have often been overlooked, despite their vast potential.
In recent years, however, as internet use has gone mobile, the QR code has come into its own. Smartphones have become the vehicle for scanning and interacting with QR codes.
And during the pandemic, they gained greater prominence as vital ways for people to engage with services and gain crucial information, quickly and safely.
QR codes are flexible, adaptable and versatile. And they offer schools an excellent alternative to biometric payment systems.
Because the QR code works like a barcode, it provides an instant response. But while the barcode only carries payment information, the QR code can carry a lot more besides. And it transmits this data rapidly, in a couple of seconds.
The way in which the QR code stores information means that one code can work for multiple transactions. They don’t require perfect alignment with a camera to be easily read and you can apply them as stickers to different items. This is ideal for pupils when they need a quick form of verification.
Till is Pebble’s catering processing and payments platform. It enables schools to automate and centralise the management of their catering while eliminating transaction-logging.
It saves schools time, reduces error and, through QR codes, makes it easy for eligible pupils to access school meals, and for schools to record and monitor these transactions.
Don’t let the familiarity of QR codes fool you; they offer huge potential to make the management of school catering better, easier and more efficient.
For more information, talk to the Pebble team today.
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