At the moment we’re in the middle of preparing a report to send to the Information Commissioner about our fruitless attempts to get answers from schools on their use of CCTV. For the time being let’s just say that FOI requests to several hundred schools over the past 9 months have yielded a pathetic 16% response rate – the remaining 84% didn’t even manage an acknowledgment.
An apposite story, then, in yesterday’s Telegraph about CCTV:
Schools are becoming “Orwellian” societies where CCTV cameras in classrooms monitor pupil behaviour and staff performance, teachers will warn today.
Many of the Government’s semi-independent academies have installed cameras and two-way mirrors to let senior staff monitor pupils, they say.
Last month the European Data Protection Working Party released a paper on the protection of children’s data (pdf), including a section on CCTV:
There are places where safety is of paramount importance, so CCTV can be more easily justified, for example, at entrances and exits to schools, as well as to other places where people circulate – not just the school population, but also people visiting the school premises for whatever reason.
…On the other hand, in most other parts of the school, the pupils’ right to privacy (as well as that of teachers and other school workers), and the essential freedom of teaching, weigh against the need for permanent CCTV surveillance.
This is so particularly in classrooms, where video surveillance can interfere not only with students’ freedom of learning and of speech, but also with the freedom of teaching. The same applies to leisure areas, gymnasiums and dressing rooms, where surveillance can interfere with rights to privacy.
These remarks are also based on the right to the development of the personality, which all children have. Indeed, their developing conception of their own freedom can become compromised if they assume from an early age that it is normal to be monitored by CCTV. This is all the more true if webcams or similar devices are used for distance monitoring of children during school time.
It is extraordinary that CCTV has become accepted as a normal part of school life in the UK, but when schools don’t regard themselves as public authorities open to public scrutiny, it is inevitable that some head teachers will start to treat them as their own private fiefdoms.
update: more on this from Mark Ballard in The Inquirer