CCTV turning schools into ‘prisons’

(Telegraph/UK)   Researchers found the widespread use of CCTV, ID cards, electronic registration systems, fob-controlled gates and fingerprint technology as schools attempt to crackdown on troublemakers.By Graeme Paton, Education Editor
Published: 7:01AM BST 07 Jul 2010

Staff at one comprehensive patrolled corridors and playgrounds with radios to make sure children behaved at lunchtimes, while teachers at a private school used technology to spy on children’s computer and internet use.

Researchers suggested that the sheer scale of surveillance was fuelling paranoia among many pupils.

According to the report, children at an all-girls’ secondary school claimed that “voyeuristic” cameras could be used to monitor them in changing rooms and toilets.

The conclusions, in a study by Hull University, come amid growing concerns over a rise in the use of surveillance techniques in schools.

As many as 85 per cent of teachers have reported the use of CCTV in their schools and one-in-10 admitted cameras were even trained on toilets.

This comes despite claims in another report that the collection of CCTV images or other biometric information could contravene the Data Protection Act.

Dr Michael McCahill, lecturer in criminology at Hull’s faculty of social sciences, said the unchecked use of surveillance risked creating mutual distrust between teachers and pupils.

“The bottom line is that complex social problems will never be solved with technological fixes,” he said. “Schools are full of children, not criminals.

“The children we have talked to in this paper are treated as suspects on a regular basis and we have to ask what effect that is going to have on children’s relationships with adults.”

As part of the study, published today in the journal Surveillance and Society, researchers interviewed staff and pupils at three schools in a northern city. This included a “council estate comprehensive”, a private school and one all-girls’ school.

They found widespread monitoring of children in all three schools, despite subtle difference in techniques.

Children at the comprehensive were monitored by a network of 62 CCTV cameras trained on classrooms, corridors and play areas.

Main entrances and exits were locked with sophisticated fob keys, teachers patrolled with radios and pupils were issued with ID cards. The school employed a computerised registration system and automatic text messages were sent to parents warning them if children failed to turn up.

One 15-year-old boy told researchers the school was “like a prison”.

The study said “technologically sophisticated and computer-literate students” at an elite private school were more likely to be subjected to high-tech surveillance.

Pupils told how the school used software to monitor their computer use, while websites such as YouTube, MSN and eBay were “blocked” by teachers.

The school also used ID cards to pay for school dinners and thumbprint technology for access to library books.

Pupils at the all-girls’ comprehensive complained that cameras could be misused by “voyeuristic” CCTV operators.

“As well as concerns over the voyeuristic use of surveillance, some expressed their desire to have a ‘backstage’ area where they can make themselves presentable before being watched,” said the report. “Others thought that surveillance was bound up with wider media representations of women and their bodies.”

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