Should CCTV cameras be allowed in classrooms? It is a question that has been mooted across Australia, as well as the US and the UK.
A 2014 survey of schools in the UK found that 1 in 12 classrooms (8%) have CCTV cameras, and it is now thought that 90% of UK schools have CCTV – though many of these are in the playground and corridors.
The reasons for such measures are student safety, teacher safety and also to help improve teaching standards.
However, David Roy, a senior lecturer at Newcastle University, says that with increased allegations of abuse against both students and teachers, CCTV cameras in classrooms could provide the evidence to support or dismiss accusations.
“CCTV would be a protection for teachers and pupils alike. It could be used to support teaching standards by allowing staff to observe how they teach and this can be used to reflect and improve upon practice,” he told The Educator.
However, Roy said that where CCTV cameras are most needed as a protection is to challenge false allegations against teachers or in those classrooms where there are non-verbal children.
“In particular this is a necessity for children with a disability,” he said.
“Children with a disability are three times more likely to be abused, and non-verbal children ten times more likely to be assaulted or abused.”
Roy referred to examples in the US, in which shocking footage of the abuse of disabled students has been found and CCTV was the only evidence to uncover it.
While the use of such technology could act as a deterrent against this abuse, there are serious concerns about privacy issues.
However, Professor of Law and Information at UNSW, Graham Greenleaf, told The Educator that the surveillance by CCTV of teachers and students would inhibit the free exchange of ideas and conversation in the classroom.
“It is a very dangerous thing for our children to grow up thinking that the surveillance of their activities is normal and unremarkable when in fact they should be thinking that it is exceptional and should be opposed wherever possible,” Graham, who is also a board member of the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF), said.
Greenleaf pointed out that there are “varying levels of justification required for different types of CCTV surveillance.
“At one end, you would have continuous CCTV of classroom activity. I cannot imagine any circumstances whatsoever where that could be justified,” he said.
“At the other end of the spectrum, you might have surveillance cameras outside school grounds only used after school used and only in schools where there was a prior history of vandalism.”
Greenleaf said this would be at the “easier end” to justify having CCTV cameras, however he said there is a whole range of different traditions in between those two where intermediate levels of justification would be required before any of this could be regarded as “morally justifiable”, regardless of state law.
A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education told The Educator that NSW public schools generally use CCTV in one of three ways.
“These are monitoring premises for after-hours security, monitoring premises during the course of the working day for added security and monitoring sick bays and student time-out rooms or other specific areas in schools,” he said.
“The Department must adhere to the Workplace Surveillance Act 2005.”
“I don’t believe that having a CCTV camera in a classroom is going to teach the student or teacher how to improve their behaviour,” he said.
Yarrington said that classrooms use video to reflect on teaching and learning so that teachers can improve their practice, but said the use of cameras as a deterrent against violence would be a “failed strategy”.
“We’ve got speed cameras, but people still speed,” he said.
“The money spent on the technology, and the supervision spent on it, could be better spent on a better focused and targeted teaching program that promotes better behaviour and teaching practices.”