Film guidance fades to grey

20th December 2002 at 00:00
Guidelines on videoing children at Christmas will be examined in the new year, Neil Munro and John Cairney reports

Scotland's local authorities are to wait until the new year before tackling the controversy surrounding the filming of school pupils.

The education committee of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities will have the issue on its agenda at its next meeting, David Kennedy, its spokesperson, confirmed to The TESS.

It follows a remarkable few days this week when Edinburgh City Council was certainly not being run by Three Wise Men from the east, if the reaction to its guidelines on filming pupils was any yardstick.

The council hit the headlines from Morningside to Manhattan over the guidelines, which appeared to ban the photographing and videoing of children at school Nativity plays, concerts and sports events unless all parents gave their consent.

After an initially uncompromising defence of its actions by Roy Jobson, the director of education, there followed a confusing period when the council issued a statement denying there was a ban and then backed down by suspending the guidelines after a parent threatened to take the authority to court.

The council's actions, designed to prevent images of children falling into the hands of paedophiles, had provoked a chorus of condemnation by a range of groups, including the Scottish Human Rights Centre, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, Kidscape, Scotland Yard and the leading UK paedophile expert Ray Wyre.

Karen Gillon, convener of the parliamentary committee, made it clear she believed the Labour-run council had struck the wrong balance between preserving children's innocence and protecting children's safety.

The extent of the difficulties the council had got itself into was underlined in a comment from the Rev Ewan Aitken, the council's executive member for education, who acknowledged that, "far from the guidelines resolving the problem, they had become the problem". He then said he apologised for any difficulties that had been caused.

The suspended guidelines, written by Sue Hamilton, the council's child protection officer, begin by asking heads to use their "discretion, judgment and common sense". But they also go on to state that "the following guidance should be followed" and end by suggesting that schools should consider hiring private companies to film school performances if the consent of all parents has not been obtained.

The council had initially insisted that its actions were governed by the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act, both dating from 1998. However, senior council sources now suggest their view is that the former legislation is "a red herring," while the latter will require the council to have guidelines "of some sort" - but not necessarily running to nine pages.

Despite the storm that broke over its head, the council said that "almost all our schools have had forms returned by all their parents" to allow filming or photography to go ahead.

Sheilah Jackson, the head of Queensferry Primary, said she appreciated the council's back-up because the use of digital photography and the Internet had increased the potential for inappropriate use of images of children. Her school had not received consent forms from seven of the 138 families with children in the infant years before the first nativity play was to be performed on Tuesday morning, but they simply phoned them up and permission was given.

Ms Jackson said she then checked again before the performances to ask if there were any objections to the taking of photographs or videos, as she did last year. There were none.

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