School CCTV footage can be accessed by smartphones and tablets

camerasCCTV in schools could be about to take an even creepier turn, with some systems allowing the footage to be remotely accessed from any number of smartphones, tablets and desktop computers by individuals outside of the school.

We have long warned about the continued growth of the use of CCTV cameras, whether that be in Care Homes or in schools. Our Class of 1984 report, highlighted that here are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland. Some schools reported a ratio of one camera for every five pupils, and more than two hundred schools reported using CCTV in bathrooms and changing rooms, whilst others reported more cameras inside school buildings as outside.

The Telegraph has reported that the Government has given the go ahead for schools to install state of the art surveillance equipment which will allow parents to be able to watch live feeds across dozens of cameras set up in classrooms, corridors and playgrounds. The move is a result of a crackdown on drug dealing and the consumption of drugs in schools. Two schools in Herefordshire, a school in Liverpool and one in Waltham Forest have taken up a trial of the technology.

There is little doubt that opening up the CCTV system for anyone with a smart device to gain access to will have clear security and privacy implications. It is unclear why anyone other than a select team of management level staff should have access to any CCTV footage and many parents will feel deeply concerned about the thought of people outside the school watching their children throughout the day. The schools involved must ensure that they seek permission from parents before installing this system as well as being very clear about the security proceedures they have in place. We will be asking the Information Commissioner’s Office for their take on whether this use of a CCTV system is compliant with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the CCTV Code of Practice.

Also, schools should absolutely not be taking it upon themselves to tackle any form of illegality that takes place on school property. If the scale of drugs being sold or consumed on school property warrants a new CCTV system to be installed, it has clearly become a matter for the police. Evidence suggests that the use of CCTV fails to directly tackle the root cause of criminality, instead displacing the behaviour. For instance, if students are aware that CCTV has been installed, they will certainly take steps to move that behaviour out of the classroom and into other areas of the school or beyond the school gates.

The schools could also face a backlash from the teachers themselves, with a recent survey conducted by the NASUWT teaching union, highlighting that teachers are being subjected to “permanent surveillance” through the use of CCTV cameras in the classroom. The recent 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.

It would surely seem the sensible option that if criminality in schools is suspected, head teachers should be taking proactive steps to involve the police and root out the perpetrators rather than subjecting the majority of innocent students and teachers to such an intrusion of their privacy.We remain clear that the surveillance experiment of the past twenty years has failed to reduce crime or improve public safety. As schoolchildren across the country are now expected to accept surveillance for the formative years of their education, it is time for a different approach.