Secret filming 'risk to pupils'

1st July 2005 at 01:00
Secret filming in schools is an unreliable reporting method that puts children at risk, union leaders and council officials claimed this week.

A programme due to be broadcast in Channel 4's Dispatches series next Thursday uses secret footage from a supply teacher working in four schools in London and Leeds.

Alex Dolan claims to reveal widespread disruptive behaviour from pupils, and tricks used by schools when inspectors visit.

The programme uses similar filming methods to Classroom Chaos, shown on Five in April, which revealed pupils behaving badly in schools in London and the North-east.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"It's very easy to film disruptive behaviour in school - all you have to do is teach badly. People should be very sceptical of any allegations made by any programme made in this deceitful way."

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"It's not a good idea to send the kids away during Ofsted inspections and the union does not condone that sort of practice, but I don't want to make a comment on something that is possibly partial because it has been got through undercover methods."

Chris Edwards, chief executive of Education Leeds, said the programme could cause serious problems for schools that did not deserve them. "Based upon the limited information that has been made available, it is the view of both schools that the impression that is intended to be created by this programme is highly misleading and may cause serious harm to the schools and children involved," he said.

"We are reserving the right to bring legal proceedings on several grounds, including defamation."

St Aloysius' college, Highgate, north London, is criticised in the programme for its "zero tolerance" discipline policy. It is not accused of trying to deceive Ofsted inspectors. Tom Mannion, headteacher, said: "We do not accept that a journalist who is engaged in undercover filming is in a position to manage and teach effectively; which is what Ms Dolan was contracted to do.

"We welcome constructive comments, and the opportunity to make further improvements in our school by working with those who are committed to the continuing success of our school at all levels.

"Unfortunately, selective footage shot in covert conditions cannot help this process. It is a betrayal of trust, which misrepresents and undermines a rapidly improving school."

CEA@Islington, the private firm that runs Islington's school services, including St Aloysius' college, has serious concerns about "at risk" children appearing in the film.

"We have sent Channel 4 a list of all children at the school involved with social services," she said. "We do not feel it's enough just to obscure the faces. They need to disguise the voices and any identifying features of their uniform, school bags, shoes, hair styles, personal possessions. If they fail to do that they are putting children at risk."

A spokesman for Channel 4 said: "Channel 4 is taking reasonable measures to anonymise students and teachers so that they are not readily identifiable."

In March last year, Endeavour high school in Hull was accused of sending challenging pupils to a local college during a school inspection. It also drafted in eight staff from other schools to help.

At the time a Hull city council spokeswoman said the disaffected pupils were attending college to engage them in learning, and that the extra staff were part of a school improvement programme.


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