I Spy, with my little Eye, something beginning with….

Interesting debate about CCTV in schools from the union conferences (via the Guardian).

IMHO there are three good uses of CCTV in a school.

First one is for lesson observation. This can be done either with mobile cameras (lots of good systems around for this) or with a specially set up room with permanent camera fixtures. This should be as part of an agreed process, with very strict controls over how the footage (#oldschool) is used, i.e. only viewed by the observer and the observed unless both agree it can be used for other specified purposes, how long it is kept, and how securely it is stored. Some of these issues are basic DPA ones which many schools forget about. Where a room with fixed cameras is used then there must of course be clarity over when the cameras are on or off.

Secondly it can be used for ensuring safety about the site. There are some areas in some schools where the monitoring by CCTV can help individuals feel more secure. In my view this can only ever be a temporary state. Children need schools to be places of safety. If there are places in the school where they constantly feel unsafe then more permanent changes are required if the problem is not just to be shifted to somewhere else. If you end up with CCTV everywhere, then you have more problems than CCTV can actually solve and you need to rethink.

Finally, perimeter security (I know, it sounds a bit ‘Call of Duty’, but you know what I mean). If used for this then the system has to be active rather than reactive.

As well as these three areas of ‘yes, use it’ I would say there are several no go areas. Firstly changing areas and toilets. No, no not ever. If you have bullying problems in these areas then physically change them.

Secondly, permanent fixtures in a teachers classroom. I can’t really see how this can be a good idea. If the teacher has requested it because they don’t feel safe then the camera is not really going to help that. Plus, deal with the lack of safety. If you don’t feel confident in the quality of the teacher, then get in the room, establish the issues, then deal with them.

The golden rule with CCTV wherever it is used is that every one should always be aware that it is being used. There are no circumstances that I can envisage where the secret use of cameras can be justified by a school. That’s not what we do or what we are.

There is some good advice around (I would recommend the ATL website as a starting point) but always remember that you have very clear obligations under the DPA when using cameras.

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