Big teacher is watching you

20th June 1997 at 01:00
Crime Beat: Safer SchoolsBBC 1, Thursday, June 26, 8.00-8.30pm.Such has been + the drive to make schools into safer places for children that rarely can you + just walk in unchallenged. There are reception desks, coded security locks, + barred windows and exit doors which cannot be opened from outside. Often, too, + there are the by-now-familiar video cameras, looking down from poles or from + the corners of buildings. BBC's Crime Beat, in looking at school security, + chooses to focus heavily, though by no means exclusively, on the use of + closed-circuit television. The programme begins with Martyn Lewis standing at + the spot where London head Philip Lawrence was murdered. Perhaps this is + journalistically inevitable, as is the mention of Dunblane, but as later + sequences rapidly show, much of the worry for most schools comes from less + tragic but much more frequent incidents of actual and potential violence. + Scarisbrick Hall School, for example, an independent school in Yorkshire,had + burglaries and unwanted intrusions with depressing frequency until cameras were+ installed. (One excerpt from their camera tapes shows the PE teacher's car + being stolen. thanks to the surveillance system, it was recovered and one of + the culprits arrested).In another section of the programme, we are shown how a + huge campus of neighbouring schools in Leicester is now protected by + #163;100,000 worth of video equipment. The programme's clear message is that + cameras not only catch and deter wrongdoers but also make children feel safer. + The way that some of those on the programme speak of the reassurance they have + from the cameras demonstrates just how anxious some young people feel about + their safety. One Leicester pupil tells of being relieved when she heard about + the new cameras in her school. ("I thought, 'Phew!'") Heads, governors and + parents, however, do need to look a little more deeply into this issue than the+ programme can, given its general audience. As TES articles have pointed out + several times, not all security problems can be solved by video surveillance, + and it would be a pity if the day after the broadcast, viewers were to put + pressure on their schools to spend money on inappropriate equipment. If, for + example, burglars are climbing on to a shed to get into an upstairs window, you+ can either put in cameras to watch them, or you can remove the shed. + Similarly, reinforcing or removing a door may be more effective than just + watching it. You can cut bushes back and modernise window and door locks. You + can cut a hatch so that the secretary can see the front door. Even if you do + decide on video, you need to know that systems differ widely in principle, + purpose, effectiveness and cost. The point is that heads and governors need to + arrive at a considered whole-school policy, taking advice from the local + crime-prevention officer.Schools must remember, too, that video surveillance + has to be managed - at the simplest level, someone has to check the system, + change the tapes and keep an eye on the monitors. The programme took us to one + Bournemouth primary school in which Year 6 pupils were helping with this. In a + big school, there is a very real staffing demand.Most importantly of all, + perhaps, is the issue of just how far surveillance should go. In at least one + school on the programme, a system installed to detect intruders is also clearly+ being used to deter unruly behaviour among pupils. "The general behaviour of + students will improve" is one comment, and in one short sequence we see some + potentially misbehaving pupils decide to disperse when they realise they are on+ camera.This raises the serious question of whether it really is appropriate + for a school - surely a "people" place, with a mission to teach pupils about + relationships and attitudes - to rely on surveillance for the improvement of + behaviour. One senior pupil on the programme says, "You can't go anywhere + without being watched now." True enough, and although cameras clearly ought to + be used to protect children against intruders, surely pupils ought not to feel+ that their teachers and carers are using the system to watch them. A carefully+ nurtured atmosphere of trust could well be seriously damaged as a result.The + general point is that pieces of expensive kit - computers, minibuses, video + cameras - cannot be tacked on to existing ways of working. They will bring + about far-reaching and sometimes unforeseen changes, and should arise from + considered needs, as part of an overall philosophy.

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