Parents at five Oxfordshire schools have been promised that fingerprint data held on their children is secure.

Headteachers have defended the use of fingerprint recognition software following national calls for tighter controls.

Two secondary schools in the county, Cherwell in Oxford and Matthew Arnold, Cumnor Hill, currently use fingerprint systems in libraries, along with primaries Windale, Blackbird Leys, and Glory Farm, Bicester. Cheney, in Oxford, uses the technology to register pupils.

John Henry Newman Primary School, in Littlemore, used to use the software in its library but withdrew it for technical reasons.

Yesterday, Liberal Democrats raised fears about a lack of Government guidance on the technology, and called for stricter controls to prevent security breaches such as identity theft.

A survey conducted by the party revealed that at least 285 English schools were using fingerprint software.

Lib Dem education spokesman Sarah Teather said: "These figures confirm an extremely worrying situation where schools are fingerprinting pupils without any guidance on whether it is legal to do so.

"Insecure school computers holding unique personal information are a gift to identity thieves."

John Mitchell, Oxfordshire County Council spokesman for children, young people and families, said he was happy systems used by Oxfordshire schools were secure.

But he said the decision to use the technology was down to individual schools.

He added: "It is not a thumbprint image that is kept, this is software that takes data from the image and stores it as a number. In that sense it is like any other personal identification number.

"At the moment these systems don't compromise data protection and we are happy."

Glory Farm Primary head- teacher Paul Ducker said the system was only used in the Bicester school's library and he was happy with the security.

He said: "It is completely stand alone and not connected to our administration system.

"We inform parents we have the system in place and that when they leave the records are destroyed."

He added: "I recognise it could be the thin end of the wedge, but if it's managed carefully with the right checks and balances, there should not be a problem."

Maureen Thompson, headteacher at Windale Primary School, said: "We do not share the data with anybody."

She said parents were informed and all records were destroyed once children had left the school.

She added government guidelines would be helpful.

A spokesman for Cherwell School in North Oxford said its system was covered by the Data Protection Act and parents were informed of information held.

Cheney School, in Headington, would not comment, while no-one was available at Matthew Arnold.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said schools had to abide by the Data Protection Act and added that guidance on the technology would be issued shortly.