Teachers hit back at "permanent surveillance" in the classroom

banksy-3A survey conducted by the NASUWT teaching union, has highlighted that teachers are being subjected to “permanent surveillance” through the use of CCTV cameras in the classroom.

What is clear is that the surveillance experiment of the past twenty years has failed to reduce crime or improve public safety. Yet, schoolchildren and teachers across the country are now expected to accept surveillance for the formative years of their education and in the workplace.

Our report, The Class of 1984, shred light for the first time on the extent of surveillance within schools, highlighting that there are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland. Our report also showed that there is a ratio of one CCTV camera for every five pupils, more than two hundred schools are using CCTV in bathrooms and changing rooms and there are more cameras inside school buildings than outside.

The NASUWT union conference featured a debate on whether the monitoring of teachers has become excessive, with the motion adding “Its impact is to stifle creativity in education, disempower teachers, put procedure before purpose and increase the workload of teachers”. The debate was spurred by a survey carried out by the NASUWT union which found that one in 12 (8%) of members questioned said they have CCTV in their classrooms. Of these:

  • Two thirds (66%) say the cameras were introduced for pupil safety with a further 58% stating they were introduced for the safety of staff.
  • Just under a third (31%) said that the cameras are there to monitor pupil behaviour, with 15% saying that they are designed to help teachers’ professional development.
  • About 7% said that their school had introduced cameras to monitor teaching and learning, with another 6% claiming they are used to monitor teacher performance.
  • Almost nine in ten (89%) said that they cannot switch the cameras off, with a similar proportion (87%) saying that the CCTV was constantly recording.
  • The survey also found that just over half of teachers (55%) claim the recordings are monitored by their school leaders, with two fifths (41%) saying the footage has been used to make judgments about staff.

Reacting to the figures, the NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “Teachers are already wrestling with excessive monitoring, masquerading as classroom observation, carried out by senior management and a host of other people regularly visiting their classrooms. Now, in some schools, they are being subjected to permanent surveillance through CCTV cameras. Lab rats have more professional privacy. The stories teachers recounted to us in the survey are a shocking catalogue of professional disrespect and unacceptable intrusion. No other professionals are subjected to such appalling treatment, No one should be subjected to the stress and pressure of being watched constantly.”

The use of CCTV in schools and the workplace is an issue that has not been subject to any real public debate so it is pleasing to see the NASUWT union highlighting the scale of surveillance and the purposes behind it. It is hoped that this attention will mean that we can begin to have a proper debate about not only how to regulate CCTV, but also why surveillance continues to increase unchecked when there is still no academic research that suggests it is having a positive impact.