A snapshot of how photos of children can put them at risk

11th May 2018 at 00:00
Teachers need to be very careful about using images of children to promote the school – they must obtain permission and they must also avoid putting personal, identifying information on social media

I love it when schools’ celebratory posts pop up on my social media feeds. In among the politics and the rows about pedagogy come these little nuggets championing young people’s successes: sport, music, spelling, maths, exploring, learning and having fun. And the posts that really pack a punch include wonderful photographs of energetic children grinning wildly.

Every teacher knows (or should know) that parental permission to use a child’s image is a must. But “may we use your son/daughter’s image in promotional material?” does not suffice if they end up on a billboard-sized poster for months – especially if some time has passed since permission was obtained and the photos were taken and used. And, with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the permissions that you obtain will need to be even more specific.

Children’s circumstances can change quickly. That safe, happy and secure 12-year-old on the front of the school prospectus may one day become a 15-year-old subject to a child protection order. Sadly, I am aware of one young man whose smiling image was used on the back of a bus promoting the school’s open day, despite his stepdad’s recent threats to find and kill him. He had to move schools.

Social media danger

And those celebratory social media posts can also cause problems. A tweet wishing a young athlete luck in an upcoming match, for example, might seem innocuous. But if that message includes a photo and details such as their full name, school and age, as well as a time and place where they can be found (at the match), this is everything someone needs to potentially do some serious harm. I’d advise only posting photos of children after an event and using just a first name.

And as well as seeking parental permission, it is essential to obtain the permission of the young person. This applies not only to social media (which is something parents should consider before posting their holiday snaps) but to any photos used around school. Essentially, the child owns their own image and if they don’t want it used on a display board, it shouldn’t be.

It should also be patently obvious that photos of children should not be used in any negative way. A close-up of a poorly knotted tie with a disparaging remark about non-accordance with the behaviour policy is never acceptable; the child will know it is him/her and so will the rest of the community.

At a time when we spend so much time tidying up after children who have made social media mistakes, don’t get yourself in a mess.

Keziah Featherstone is co-founder and national leader for #WomenEd. She is a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable and an experienced school leader. She tweets at @keziah70

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