Schools warned over ‘Big Brother’ cameras

Schools in Horsham district have been urged not to follow more than 200 others by filming children in bathrooms and changing rooms.

Big Brother Watch (BBW) says there are more than 100,000 closed circuit television cameras in secondary schools and academies across England, Wales and Scotland, including a surprising number in supposedly-private areas.

Nick Pickles, director of the pressure group, said: “With some schools seeing a ratio of one camera for every five pupils, and more than 200 schools using CCTV in bathrooms and changing rooms, the picture across the country will undoubtedly shock and surprise many. This research raises serious questions about the privacy of schoolchildren across Britain. The full extent of school surveillance is far higher than we had expected.”

The Resident contacted seven schools in Horsham district on Wednesday to ask their policies and views on the issue.

A spokesman for The Forest School said: “We do employ the use of CCTV cameras for the safety and security of pupils, staff and visitors, as well as for the security of our premises. Our cameras are sighted both inside and outside the school, on areas such as the corridors and school entrances as well as high-value locations such as computer and media suites.

“It is our current policy, and will continue to be, that cameras are not located inside toilet blocks or changing rooms. Every school must look at their own circumstances and areas of risk. We do not feel this is an appropriate or necessary location for CCTV.

“At Forest, footage is only used to ensure the safety of pupils and staff, and would be reviewed in a situation where evidence needed to be gained of an incident or occurrence. Cameras also play a significant part in the reduction of vandalism or theft on the site, ensuring maximum school resources can be directed for the benefit of pupils and their learning.”

David Brewer, director of business services at Millais School, said: “We have some CCTV cameras located externally around the main entrances to the school site to help maintain security. There are no CCTV cameras within our school buildings as we have a managed security system to alert us quickly to any intruders when the buildings are not being used.”

There are 112 CCTV cameras at Steyning Grammar School, including 83 inside buildings, but none in bathrooms or changing rooms and no plans to place cameras in those areas. A Steyning Grammar spokesman said: “The school follows the West Sussex County Council guidance on CCTV, laid out on the West Sussex Grid For Learning.”

The Weald School has about 15 cameras around the school, for 1,500 students, but no cameras in bathrooms or changing rooms. Head teacher Peter Woodman said: “We never have had, and it is very unlikely we ever would have, CCTV in such locations.”

Christ’s Hospital School declined to comment. Farlington and Tanbridge House have not commented yet.

A spokesman for West Sussex County Council said: “Installation of CCTV in schools is a matter for the individual schools, as the contract to install has always been between the school and the contractor. Schools that do have CCTV would have it for the safety and security of students and buildings.”

But BBW campaigner Mr Pickles argued: “Local authorities need to be doing far more to reign in excessive surveillance in their areas and ensuring resources are not being diverted from more effective alternatives.

“The Home Office’s proposed regulation of CCTV will not apply to schools and the new Commissioner will have absolutely no powers to do anything. Parents will be right to say that such a woefully weak system is not good enough.

“The government should commission an independent review of CCTV use in schools to explore the evidential basis upon which cameras have been installed. This should include ensuring any school using CCTV has appropriate policies in place so teachers and parents are fully aware of why surveillance is being used, when footage can be viewed and by whom.

“The surveillance experiment of the past 20 years has failed to reduce crime or improve public safety. As schoolchildren across the country are now expected to accept surveillance for the formative years of their education, it is time for a different approach.

“We hope a proper debate can take place, not only about how to regulate CCTV but also why surveillance continues to increase unchecked when there is still no academic research that suggests it is having a positive impact.”

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