CCTV is used to spy on teachers

24th December 2010 at 00:00
Keeping check on pupil behaviour is no longer its sole purpose, watchdog warns

Schools are expanding their use of CCTV to monitor teaching performance and "private" spaces including toilets and changing rooms, the Government's privacy watchdog has warned.

Video surveillance has moved from being used for security to keeping check on pupil behaviour in all parts of schools, according to a report by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

The growth of "private sector management" of state schools is also likely to herald a new wave of privacy issues, the report says.

The wide-ranging concerns have prompted an angry response from unions, which claim that cameras are being used to undermine their members.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said CCTV was "crude and ineffective".

"No other profession would tolerate this kind of surveillance. Why should teachers be expected to?

"The increase in CCTV surveillance of teachers can be correlated directly with the increase in school autonomy and the punitive accountability regime."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said she had "grave worries".

"Teachers are saying they don't know what CCTV there is and what it's being used for," she said.

"Many schools have CCTV, but no CCTV policy, and in that vacuum anything could happen. Everyone should know where the cameras are and what they are being used for."

The report, which includes contributions from academics at the Surveillance Studies Network, was presented to Parliament by information commissioner Christopher Graham.

It says: "The use of CCTV in schools has migrated from perimeter security and access control to monitoring pupil behaviour in public areas such as in corridors and playgrounds, and to more private realms such as changing rooms and toilets."

It adds: "As the function of school CCTV has changed, it is apparent that some schools have not understood their new regulatory responsibilities.

"These issues are only likely to intensify with new uses for cameras in education, such as the remote-operated web-cams on laptops provided for pupils' home use in the USA. Similar practices are more likely in the UK if private sector management of state schools spreads, as the Government intends."

David Smith, deputy information commissioner, said that CCTV should only be used to monitor pupils' behaviour in exceptional circumstances.

"We would stress that constant filming and sound recording is unlikely to be acceptable unless there is a pressing need," he said. Constant CCTV monitoring of whole classes as a means of combating "low level disruption" would not be justified, Mr Smith said.

Despite this, the report notes that complaints to the ICO have risen in the past year.

"School teachers, in particular, have found that CCTV installed to control pupil behaviour has been used to monitor their teaching performance," it notes.

The report comes after a study funded by Salford University, published earlier this year, which found that surveillance cameras are now installed in most UK schools.

Dr Emmeline Taylor, the author of that study, said that the ICO was powerless to punish schools that broke the rules.

"Schools are often unaware of what their legal obligations are and the issue is exacerbated by the fact that the ICO has very little power of enforcement, and perhaps even a reluctance to enforce legislation, so even schools that are overtly in contravention of the law see very little consequence," she said. Dr Taylor is calling for bespoke guidelines on CCTV for schools.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We expect schools to comply with guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office. The Coalition government has committed to regulating CCTV. This will apply to education settings."

Surveillance Studies Network, was presented to Parliament by information commissioner Christopher Graham. It says: "The use of CCTV in schools has migrated from perimeter security and access control to monitoring pupil behaviour in public areas such as in corridors and playgrounds, and to more private realms such as changing rooms and toilets."

It adds: "As the function of school CCTV has changed, it is apparent that some schools have not understood their new regulatory responsibilities.

"These issues are only likely to intensify with new uses for cameras in education, such as the remote-operated webcams on laptops provided for pupils' home use in the USA. Similar practices are more likely in the UK if private sector management of state schools spreads, as the Government intends."

David Smith, deputy information commissioner, said CCTV should only be used to monitor pupils' behaviour in exceptional circumstances. "We would stress that constant filming and sound recording is unlikely to be acceptable unless there is a pressing need," he said.

Constant CCTV monitoring of whole classes as a means of combating "low level disruption" would not be justified, Mr Smith added.

Despite this, the report notes that complaints to the ICO have risen in the past year.

"School teachers, in particular, have found that CCTV installed to control pupil behaviour has been used to monitor their teaching performance," it notes.

The report comes after a study, funded by Salford University and published earlier this year, found that surveillance cameras are now installed in most UK schools.

Dr Emmeline Taylor, author of the study, said the ICO was powerless to punish schools that broke the rules.

"Schools are often unaware of what their legal obligations are, and the issue is exacerbated by the fact that the ICO has very little power of enforcement, and perhaps even a reluctance to enforce legislation, so even schools that are overtly in contravention of the law see very little consequence," she said. Dr Taylor is calling for bespoke guidelines on CCTV for schools.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We expect schools to comply with guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office. The coalition Government has committed to regulating CCTV. This will apply to education settings."

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