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Child safety fears prompt Wi-Fi code for Welsh schools

Geoffrey Lean,Environment Editor
Sunday 23 September 2007 00:00 BST

New safety rules are to be drawn up for Wi-Fi in schools for the first time in Britain, after a local authority officially voiced concern last week about possible effects on children's health.

Carmarthenshire County Council is drawing up a code of practice for using the technology that it plans to enforce on local schools and hopes will be adopted nationally. It says that the code is "absolutely necessary" as the safety of children should be "paramount".

The move, which was welcomed by the Professional Association of Teachers, is the first such action a local authority has taken over classroom Wi-Fi, which has been installed in nearly half of all primary schools and 70 per cent of secondary schools in the country.

This spring, Britain's top health protection watchdog, Sir William Stewart, called for an official review of the use of the technology in schools. But his concerns – first reported in The Independent on Sunday – were ignored by the Government.

The German government now recommends that people should keep their exposure to radiation from Wi-Fi "as low as possible" by choosing "conventional wired connections", and sends schools "instructional material" on the issue. The technology is already banned in Frankfurt schools.

Last week the European Environment Agency suggested that "it would be prudent for health authorities to recommend actions to reduce exposures, especially to vulnerable groups such as children".

Carmarthenshire is to survey UK and overseas medical research, including evidence that mobile phone use for over a decade can cause cancer, before drawing up its code.

Councillor Ieuan Jones said: "We are going to monitor the situation as closely as we can because we all have these concerns. The dangers of these Wi-Fi connections are possibly along the lines of using hand-held mobile phones."

Meryl Gravell, the council leader, said: "A code of practice is absolutely necessary. The safety of our children in school is paramount for all of us."

By contrast, the cabinet of Haringey Council in north-east London last week threw out recommendations for controls. In July its Overview and Scrutiny Committee reached all-party agreement that the council should recommend that schools give preference to "wired-in" systems and that they should consult with parents and staff about the use of Wi-Fi. But the all-Labour cabinet dismissed all its recommendations bar one – that Wi-Fi systems should be switched off when not in use, and then purely "as good energy-conservation practice".

Councillor Martin Newton, the Lib Dem leader on the committee, yesterday accused the cabinet of "playing Russian roulette with the future of our children".

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