Teachers 'forced to act as Big Brother'

8th November 2016 at 00:01
Subject Genius, Shaun Eason, There’s more to computing than just coding
Critics say parents and pupils are kept in the dark about snooping software used to monitor students' computer use

Teachers are unwittingly being forced into taking on the role of "Big Brother" due to the widespread use of computer software to monitor pupils online, campaigners have warned.

According to research, at least 1,000 secondary schools in England are using classroom management software packages to help protect their students against radicalisation when online.

But the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch has raised concerns that many parents and students are unaware that the technology has been installed, and that teachers are being forced to keep tabs on their pupils’ online activity.

Figures, obtained under Freedom of Information requests by the campaign group, show that of 1,420 secondary schools in England and Wales which provided data, 1,000 said that they use so-called classroom management software packages.

This technology can be used by schools in a number of ways, such as to monitor pupils' internet activity, access their web history, block websites and check what is being typed into a computer.

In its report, Big Brother Watch said that schools often consider buying the software to keep pupils safe online, or as part of their duty to help protect children from radicalisation.

But it added: "We are concerned that the use of technology which allows real time monitoring is placing teachers unwittingly in the position of being Big Brother.

"Forcing staff to oversee their pupils' every digital move represents a fundamental shift from the traditional method of overseeing pupils by engaging with them from the front of the class."

It went on to say: "Schools currently offer little explanation about the use of the software in their acceptable use policies.

"Pupils and parents, who have to sign such policies to say they agree to the use of the software, are therefore left completely in the dark."

Renate Samson, chief executive of Big Brother Watch said: "Finding the balance between keeping pupils safe online without impinging on their right to privacy is a challenge for every school.

"But encouraging schools to track and monitor pupils creates a worrying precedent, particularly if pupils and parents are being left in the dark."

The report comes after TES reported that large numbers of teachers believe the training they have been given for the government's Prevent anti-terror strategy is insufficient.

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Computer monitoring software is used in schools to safeguard the welfare of children and young people by ensuring that they are not exposed to damaging online material.

"There is no secrecy about the use of this sort of software in schools. Pupils are very much aware of rules about computer use and most schools have policies which are available to parents."

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