We’re filmed almost everywhere we go thanks to the widespread use of CCTV on our streets, and many of us use surveillance cameras to protect our homes and businesses. But should these same cameras be used in schools? Is it crucial for the safety of our children, or is such a measure unnecessary and invades their privacy?
Let’s look at 5 main viewpoints on this often controversial topic
1. A sense of security
One of the main benefits of installing school surveillance cameras is that they can provide everyone, from teachers and faculty members to students and their parents, with a sense of security. People feel safer with cameras around, as they can deter crime and negative behaviour.
Access control and preventing intruders
An important practical reason to monitor school areas with cameras is access control. Schools, in particular, need to be 100% certain that no unauthorised people or persons are accessing school grounds or buildings. This is a child protection issue as well as a general security concern.
A CCTV system can be integrated into a school’s overall safety and security policy. At the very least, if parents, students, and staff agree that cameras inside the school are unnecessary, you can place them at the school gates and main access points. This allows you to monitor who is accessing the grounds and acting quickly if an intruder is detected. It can also help to prevent truancy and pupils leaving the grounds without permission.
2. Improving school behaviour and preventing bullying
Some schools, such as Queen’s School in Wisbech, were early adopters of security cameras, but not necessarily for safety and security reasons. School managers installed CCTV cameras in toilets (sinks and communal areas, not cubicles) to help prevent bullying. Bullies often target their victims in places away from the eyes of teachers and staff and in schools – this usually means the toilets and other ‘hidden’ areas.
CCTV cameras can be used firstly to deter bullies in the first place because visible cameras let them know that someone is watching. The evidence gathered can also be used when confronting bullies and their parents.
3. Improving parents’ behaviour
Some schools and councils also use CCTV cameras to improve the behaviour of the parents, never mind the children. One main issue occurs at the school gates, where some parents park and drive irresponsibly. To prevent these parents from blocking access and risking children’s lives, some councils in areas such as Croydon in south London are launching new traffic control schemes. These involve bringing in new traffic restrictions outside schools and using CCTV and automatic number plate recognition cameras to scan vehicles passing through. If you don’t have a permit or you drive or park irresponsibly, you could face a fine of up to £130.
4. Cost – should schools be splashing out on school surveillance cameras?
Good quality CCTV cameras are suitable for both internal and exterior use to cover a whole school and don’t come cheap. Schools must have the budget for such an expense and the cameras' installation, maintenance and monitoring. To justify such an expense, they also need to demonstrate a clear need for school surveillance cameras.
5. Legal issues and the crucial importance of privacy
One of the biggest concerns that critics of school surveillance cameras tend to have is the issue of privacy. Does putting surveillance cameras inside schools violate the right to privacy of its students, even if there is a strong argument for improving security?
Schools will need to research data protection, child protection and privacy laws relating to surveillance equipment before installing cameras. They’ll also need to put together a watertight policy relating to the use of the equipment, including a full risk assessment.
The crucial points to remember include the following:
Not installing cameras in any place where pupils or staff have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This means changing rooms, toilet cubicles and showers.
Putting together a plan to protect the footage. You must not give, share or sell the footage from your school security cameras to any third party, and you’ll also be held responsible if you accidentally lose the footage. To do so could result in a serious breach of data protection laws. You must put measures in place to keep it safe and only use it for the intended purpose, i.e. for security and safety.
Making the CCTV policy available to parents, staff, board members and any other relevant parties communicating all of the details of the new scheme.
More than any other organisation or business, schools must approach such a scheme cautiously. It can benefit everyone, but it’s important to do your homework, jump through all of the required hoops and do it properly.
Student, staff and parental involvement
Suppose a school is considering installing security cameras and is confident. In that case, they have a watertight reason for doing so; one of the crucial first steps is to involve staff, students and their parents in the decision. The worst thing to do is to ‘sneak’ the cameras in overnight or try to hide them in any way. This could cause an uproar and result in outraged parents complaining that their children’s rights are violated. You could even end up exposing the school to issues with privacy and data protection laws if you do so.
An open, transparent and collaborative approach is recommended. Hold a series of open, inclusive consultations where you outline the benefits of installing the cameras and address some potential complaints or issues simultaneously. This is an opportunity to ‘sell’ the benefits of such a system and get the parents on board, giving them a voice in the decision and the chance to provide feedback.