CCTV at Schools- Going Beyond Security?

Vichaya Kiatying-AngsuleeThe following report has been commissioned by JMC Secure, the company selling and installing CCTV equipment at schools, and its dual aim is:

1) to promote best practices in using surveillance equipment and

2) to raise awareness of possible misuse of CCTV at schools.

Considering the omnipresence of CCTV cameras in the UK many of us do not even know that we are under constant surveillance. Obviously all of us want to feel safe, and we take safety and security even more seriously when it comes to our children. This is why more and more schools consider installing CCTV cameras on their premises. New technology always offers new possibilities and makes our life easier when used reasonably. However, when we try to rely on it exclusively then it becomes too easy to go to the extremes and forget about our human common sense.

The increasing number of schools using CCTV equipment and the frequent cases of going beyond the standard use of monitoring systems have already begun a nationwide debate as to what is considered as reasonable and what could be treated as breaching privacy rather than supporting our students’ social-emotional development. Now, the question remains not whether to use surveillance at all, but how to use it without going too far. In our report we would like to shed some light on the newest trends and practices that raise concerns among parents, students and educators, and discuss the use of CCTV for purposes other than security.

Breaking the Law?

If you are considering installing surveillance equipment in your school, first of all you need to make sure that you will not breach the law and that the reasons for having CCTV installed are fully justified. With the growing competition in the private sector school head teachers may easily fall into a trap of trying to convince themselves that CCTV equipment can be creatively used for whatever purpose they imagine including monitoring and assessing the quality of teaching.

According to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) 85% of teachers say that they have CCTV in their schools, and that it is primarily used for monitoring school grounds, entrances and to prevent vandalism. Half of the teachers admit that cameras are also present inside the school, and even in the toilets. The main reason behind placing cameras indoors is often to monitor students’ behaviour, help teachers improve their performance, instil discipline or prevent bullying. While there may be even more reasons to justify the excessive use of CCTV all schools need to comply with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) code of practice. However, many still do not do so, or they act on the verge of breaching this code.

ambro schoolCameras Inside – How to Teach Discipline Without Teaching It

Many schools still believe that having CCTV installed inside the school building will help with students’ discipline and misbehaviour. Pedagogically speaking the best way to promote positive behaviour among children is and has always been by modelling positive behaviour, and building relationships based on mutual respect, trust and partnership. This pedagogical approach is one of the most important approaches, especially in Early Years Education. It states that only by using Positive Pedagogy, that is to say by promoting and showing mutual trust and respect, children can learn how to build meaningful and trustful relationships in their life.

Terri Darty from Action on Right to Children claims that protecting children from each other may result in going just too far. By monitoring children at all times inside the school buildings we are sending a clear message that they cannot be trusted or that they cannot trust us. The cameras are there to catch students on wrongdoings and not to value them for being trustful, respectful and understanding. Having cameras everywhere means that we teach students to perceive everyone as a potential threat to our safety and wellbeing. Eventually this may seriously affect our children’s social-emotional wellbeing and the ability to make reasonable judgments based on their own observations, constructive evidence and not just mere assumptions. As Rod Morgan, a former chair of Youth Justice Board, comments that schools instead of excessively relying on surveillance systems need to reflect on how they build their relationships with students and should go towards ‘dynamic relationships’ that will eventually result in more trustful and secure environments.

Impenetrable Fortress – Schools or Prisons?

We must realise that turning our school buildings into impenetrable fortresses with constant invigilation may in the long term contribute to inducing in parents, children and teachers more fear for safety. Although it may not have occurred to us so far, the message is clear again – either the school environment as we know it is not safe anymore, or the world outside has become too dangerous. And if none can be trusted and the world is too dangerous, then how are our children going to ever learn to protect themselves, take reasonable risks and trust others?

Paradoxically, by trying to protect our children too much we may help create the society where there is no trust at all, where people are afraid to approach others and engage in meaningful relationships, or even help others for fear of being abused, attacked or hurt. Even though it may now seem a bit too exaggerated, how else can we justify the idea of placing CCTV inside school buildings full of children who should be learning there how to make a society and contribute to it, rather than feeling some kind of unfortunate outlaws?

Schools under Pressure

Considering the reactions of the general public, especially parents, and the strict safety and security regulations that UK schools need to comply with, many educational provisions feel under pressure and decide to stretch their use of CCTV equipment by installing it inside the classrooms, halls and even toilets. They often receive positive feedback from the parents and students who claim they all feel safer with monitoring systems in place. Still, schools cannot rely solely on cameras, they should have other measures to promote positive behaviour. As ATL points out, the fact that incidents of violence happen much less in the monitored areas does not mean they do not happen at all. They often move to other areas which are not yet monitored by CCTV, or may still occur outside the school grounds.
stock images securityTaking Safe Risks

Our greatest responsibility as educators and parents is to teach children how to become independent and caring adults, and the best way to do so is by showing them how to take reasonable and safe risks in their everyday life now. Placing CCTV equipment almost everywhere
does not help to achieve this goal. What it teaches them is to take safety for granted.

All of us have the right to be safe at all times. But at the same time we have to learn how to stay safe. There will be no cameras to watch over our children every time and anywhere in the world. Sooner or later they will need to take responsibility for their own safety. And when safety is taken for granted too much, will our children know the basics of staying safe? Apart from risk taking, the knowledge of staying safe is a “must” in Early Years Education and should be continued at school. It aims at helping small children protect themselves by educating them and raising their awareness of potential dangers. But it’s achieved by developing children’s observational and reasoning skills rather than inducing paranoid fears.

CCTV-Assisted Teacher Training

According to the owner of JMC Secure, a new trend on the monitoring market can be observed – supporting teacher’s professional development with CCTV systems. And whilst intuitively they are not in favour of such practices, and emphasise that their cameras are still in 99% used for pure security, they are aware that there are more and more private enterprises trying to specialise in this new niche.

As exciting as it may sound, surveillance equipment will be of little use for anyone professionally involved in teacher training. To objectively assess and support teachers it would be important to have a camera that would capture teacher’s body language and facial expressions from a close-up as all this is important to analyse teacher’s performance, and to offer constructive feedback. Also, recording voice is absolutely necessary to understand teacher’s rapport with students and their language of instructions. The streaming would need to show the whole classroom organisation, the lesson and group dynamics, the interaction between the teacher and the students as well as the students’ response to the teacher’s instructions. A CCTV camera, even when equipped with a powerful zoom, will not know what to focus on and when. Only an experienced Teacher Trainer knows what aspects of the lesson and the teacher’s performance they want to focus on and evaluate.

In addition, the footage captured by CCTV cannot be stored forever and cannot be shared with whomever we want to. In teacher training, however, you often want to reuse the material and present it to others during your training sessions. Anyone seriously involved in teacher training will prefer a real life observation and, when applicable, use a regular video camera to capture what is necessary to offer developmental feedback. Then, the recording may be used as a high quality training material, providing both parties are in agreement to do so.

Balance is Always Good

Hopefully this report will help us all realise that CCTV equipment should be used not as an indispensable tool or a watch dog, but rather as a valuable asset that can help many school head teachers keep the learning environment safer. Otherwise we may soon arrive at the point where surveillance equipment will gain bad reputation, whereas when used reasonably it’s a useful monitoring tool that may help protect many schools.

By the same token, CCTV enterprises may start to be perceived as the ones contributing to the whole misunderstanding. This is why JMC Secure wishes to be honest with their customers and, by means of this report, aims to shed light on the current situation believing that it will help you make reasonable decisions regarding purchasing and installing surveillance equipment.



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