Concern over spy cameras in class

25th July 2003 at 01:00
The second school funded by a Christian charity will feature CCTV in every classroom. Michael Shaw reports

CLOSED-circuit television is to be installed in every classroom at a new city academy funded by the charity at the centre of the furore over creationist teaching.

The Vardy Foundation says the cameras at the King's Academy in Middlesbrough will be in place to "protect, not spy on" teachers.

However, teachers who start at the pound;22 million school in September say the cameras show a sinister lack of trust from the academy's Christian managers and unions fear they will prove intrusive.

The school is the second to be established with funding of pound;2m from the multi-millionaire car dealership owner Sir Peter Vardy, who hopes eventually to sponsor five.

The first was Emmanuel College in Gateshead, which was criticised last year after it emerged that leading staff believed in creationism and taught it alongside evolution.

Unlike Emmanuel, which was set up as a new school, most of King's staff and pupils are being transferred from two closing schools, Brackenhoe and Coulby Newham.

Teachers say they are impressed by King's state-of-the-art new building, which features video projectors in every classroom, but are concerned by the CCTV cameras. Many are also worried about the Christian ethos which the academy will be expected to provide, even though it is not a faith school.

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said he appreciated that CCTV footage could protect teachers from malicious allegations. However, he said: "I think many teachers will have serious misgivings because they will find it an intrusion of their working space and feel they are being monitored."

David Vardy, brother of Sir Peter and director of the Vardy Foundation's schools projects, said that teachers and unions would be invited to discuss how the cameras should be used at the start of term. No decision had been reached yet on who would monitor the footage, he added.

The principal, Nigel McQuoid, who will head both Emmanuel and King's, said he estimated at least eight of the new academy's 150 staff were resistant to the foundation's approach to education, including strict behaviour and dress codes.

He said he hoped that the teachers would change their minds when they saw improvements in pupil behaviour - but added that it would be simple to find replacement staff.

Although there has been some criticism from parents, the school's Year 7 is oversubscribed by more than 50 places.

"Parents have seen the Vardy Foundation brand and they like it," Mr McQuoid said. "People will be able to see by Christmas what a difference it makes."

Pupils at Emmanuel said they expected their peers at King's might find the Vardy schools' strict dress and behaviour codes strange at first, such as the rule that pupils walk to assembly in silence.

But Rachel Miller, 15, said the professional approach was the key to their own school's excellent exam results and lack of bullying.

Emmanuel features a wall-hanging on the seven days of creation in its main hall and a history time-line that stretches down several corridors but skips pre-history and starts with a panel on "God the Creator".

However, the school's library featured several well-thumbed books on evolution - including some by the scientist and Emmanuel critic, Richard Dawkins. Year 10 pupils said they had been encouraged to disagree with their teacher about biblical creationism on the one occasion they had discussed it.

Sir Peter said he had been particularly disappointed at the foundation's lack of success in persuading local authorities to take funding in Newcastle and Sunderland, where the business founded by Reg Vardy, his father, is based.

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