Hot Potato

Should schools use CCTV?

Education is crammed with ‘Marmite’ topics and one spiky binary debate that always ruffles feathers is whether CCTV should be used in schools or not.

Some welcome the use of CCTV, some it as a necessary evil and others see it as a sinister side of a surveillance society that shouldn’t be part of a school ecosystem.

CCTV is well established in society and part and parcel of the way we live so why should schools be any different? Should we be outraged that schools chose to use CCTV if they see fit?

Taking a balanced and reasoned approach to the use of surveillance CCTV in schools is important and we need to consider its proportional deployment and use.

Schools are full of vulnerable people who need to be protected and some schools do this without the use of cameras. Arguably though these schools are more vulnerable without CCTV as a wide range of incidents (bullying, theft, trespassers, arson) can be easily missed and go unrecorded.

Cost is a major issue as schools need to budget for the installation, maintenance and monitoring of cameras but many schools justify the expense and demonstrate a clear need for school surveillance cameras based on safety concerns.

School unions argue that it is impractical and naïve to expect there to be no use of surveillance CCTV in school grounds and buildings.

In England, Scotland and Wales around nine out of ten secondary schools use CCTV cameras to keep a closer eye on their students and these have been integrated into safety and security policies.Those without CCTV are definitely in the minority.

CCTV is frequently used in key areas such as the school gates, access points, the playground, corridors, cloakrooms and the perimeter of the school in order to protect children, staff, the school and its belongings. This allows schools to monitor negative behaviours and to monitor who is accessing the grounds and so act quickly if an intruder is detected. CCTV also help to prevent truancy and pupils leaving the grounds without permission. Some schools invest in a few cameras and others have over 160 cameras installed.

Whilst most teachers would agree that cameras are helpful for pupil safety and useful for monitoring behaviour standards, some also say that they can be used to improve teaching standards.

More and more schools and councils are also using CCTV cameras to improve the behaviour of  parents especially in relation to irresponsible car parking and irresponsible driving near the school site.

Schools are tired of selfish parents who block access and put children’s lives at risk.

Some councils have even taken the step to use CCTV and automatic number plate recognition to scan vehicles and those without a permit can face a fine.

CCTV in these contexts make a lot of sense.

More and more schools are using cameras but they have to make some tough decisions about where to use them especially in highly sensitive areas such as classrooms, changing rooms and toilets.

Installing cameras in areas of privacy is undoubtedly intrusive but these no-go zones become safe havens for those who wish to commit crime knowing perfectly well that cameras are not there to catch them.

School managers may choose to install CCTV cameras in toilets (sinks and communal areas, not cubicles) to help prevent bullying, drug taking, graffiti etc but there are many objections that CCTV isn’t welcome in an area reserved for toileting or where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Does putting surveillance cameras inside schools violate the right to privacy of its students?

The use of CCTV varies considerably around the world but some major cities are adamant that CCTV is a necessity purely on the grounds of personal safety.

Over the next three months in India’s capital, CCTV will be installed in all government schools enabling parents to watch their children in the classroom in real time, using a mobile phone app.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said installing CCTV would make “the whole system transparent and accountable. It will ensure safety of kids.”

Should schools across the UK consider adopting a similar idea and using a real-time video tracker for live visits? Many feel uncomfortable and have deep reservations about the streaming of CCTV footage to parents and outside agencies such as local authorities.

Ideally schools should be safe havens but many tragic and traumatic incidents take place inside them where children and staff have been seriously hurt and killed. Whilst CCTV might not necessarily prevent incidents from happening (they cannot cover every nook and cranny) they do provide valuable evidence of wrongdoing and they can act as a powerful crime deterrent.

An absolute must when considering installing CCTV is to adopt an open, transparent and collaborative approach by inviting the opinions of staff, students and parents. This will involve setting up some open meetings in which you can explain the pros and cons and listen to concerns.

Schools that are using CCTV will tell you that they have done their homework and  thoroughly researched data protection, child protection and privacy laws relating to surveillance equipment and implemented watertight policies with full risk assessments relating to the use of the equipment.

It can be daunting but if your school is thinking about installing CCTV then there is plenty of guidance available to help.

The National Education Union (NEU) is a good source and you can access their guidance here.

The Information Commissioner’s Office helps schools, colleges and universities comply with their responsibilities. They recommend that schools always undertake a privacy impact assessment (PIA) before deciding whether or not to use CCTV surveillance technology. The NEU also have a model impact assessment form on their site.

Take a look at their CCTV code of practice ‘In the picture: A data protection code of practice for surveillance cameras and personal information’ and the following video (information about CCTV can be found at 6:08).

Want to find out more about School CCTV & Access Control systems?

Visit our Schoolwatch site and see how we can help.

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Video is a powerful tool to enhance teaching and learning. Staff, students, leaders and parents can now engage with video in ways that were unattainable several years ago.

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