Blimey, there are so many teaching union conferences in April, maybe it’s the hint of some Spring sunshine.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) had their annual event at the beach in Brighton and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) holding their conference in the somewhat less glamorous location of Birmingham.  I mean, it’s like almost everyone connected to a union got their megaphones out on the same week.

With the Association for Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) remaining surprisingly quiet for the time-being, we’ve been listening to the NUT and NASUWT as they shape their future direction.  Well, it appears that the microphone is not only loud but the speaker is also full of ideas.

One thing that came out of the NASUWT this week was the warning over the use of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) in schools, arguing that it is little more than “permanent surveillance.”

According to their survey of 7,500 members, 1 in 12 had permanent CCTV in their classrooms.  One in ten of those had cameras that were permanently switched on and they assumed that they are always recording.

We can take an educated guess as to why schools might install CCTV into different areas of schools – some of them are obvious and some of them are perhaps not so much.  No matter, I sat down and had a quick brainstorm:

  • Obviously there is the issue of security in order to protect students.  If there is a particular situation in schools where children’s lives are at stake then having a CCTV system set up is always going to be there to help manage something more effectively.  It can also serve as a deterrent to crime and other troubles that you’d rather were kept away from schools.
  • Of course, CCTV can be used to spot issues between students, such as stealing and fighting.  CCTV can be used to help resolve matters efficiently.
  • If nothing else, CCTV is there to possibly prevent wrong-doing from teachers and staff alike.  This is useful in cases where teachers have claims of inappropriate behaviour brought against them or to assess if they acted correctly in cases of fighting among students.

The potential issue here appears to be with the idea that schools could use this to constantly monitor teachers to see if they are doing their jobs correctly.  The concern is that senior managers at schools are so obsessed with Ofsted inspections that they’ll just spend their time watching every little detail that teachers get up to in their lessons.

Personally if that was the case, I wouldn’t be too happy about it – it adds a massive amount of pressure to the job and I think it would contribute to the downward spiral we’re seeing at the moment – where teachers are not able to ‘teach’ as such, just stick to a highly scripted plan of exam preparation and regurgitation of facts.

Of course, schools might have a legitimate reason for CCTV in classrooms – my school had them only in the school grounds as a means for crime prevention.  Schools are of course loaded with masses of valuable equipment, ranging from computers and servers to laboratory equipment and chemicals and the like.

However, based on some of the stories we’re hearing when it comes to their use. it would appear that it isn’t just being used for preventing crime. The survey carried out by NASUWT offered the chance to give some anonymous comments, some of which were rather enlightening.

  • One teacher reported that they had been sent an email during a lesson from a member of the senior management (in this case, the deputy headteacher), asking her to tell the class that their behaviour was being monitored on the CCTV feed.
  • Another teacher wrote that they had seen senior staff watching footage recorded from CCTV in a classroom with the aim of ‘trying to catch him [a colleague] out.’

So now it seems that schools are using this to monitor every aspect of their kids too.  Clearly I was wrong when I suggested that it would just be used to settle disputes/fights/instances of theft or bullying etc.  Now it turns out that kids are under the spotlight as well.  I’m not sure what senior staff are trying to achieve here by monitoring the ‘behaviour’ of kids – clearly this isn’t just about making sure that teachers are doing what ‘they are supposed to be’, it’s also about making sure that kids conform to certain ideas as well.

I can remember when my school got their letter announcing that their school was going to be inspected by Ofsted in two days time.  Of course, we all then got that notice saying that we all had to be on our best behaviour and do X, Y and Z.  So it all makes sense now – we can all be sure where senior staff were probably getting their ideas and information from.

I think the NASUWT is right to raise concerns – clearly the danger that schools will use this for an entirely new purpose other than preventing crime (which is probably what they are designed for) raises a lot of questions about privacy for teachers and students.  On a separate note, it raises more concerns about the wider issue of education, where people go in one end, learn how to do exams and spill out some facts and then leave at the other end.

Now it seems… we have a method of constantly monitoring kids and teachers alike in schools to make sure that we hit targets and that everyone conforms to the standards of examinations and the like that are set out.

CCTV cameras should be on site, that’s for sure.  They are an important part of child protection.  However, keep them on the grounds and not in the classroom.  If there’s something wrong in the classroom, the teacher can report it.  We have such an inspection-driven culture that to be honest we don’t need an extra way on top. It’s just all unnecessary.





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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.