Secondary schools and academies across the UK have been spying on staff and students using CCTV cameras, a new report has found.
According to Big Brother Watch, there are more than an estimated 100,000 CCTV cameras installed across these institutions – with some even found in private areas such as toilets and changing rooms.
Parents, speaking with TechEye, have said the findings show the “spying state has gone too far,” while other privacy groups have said the use of cameras mirrors “reality TV”.
Big Brother Watch obtained the data under the Freedom of Information Act. Responses from 2,107 secondary schools and academies showed they used 47,806 cameras overall, including 26,887 inside school buildings.
In 207 schools, cameras were located in toilets or changing rooms, while 54 schools were found to have more than one camera inside the school for every fifteen pupils.
The Radclyffe School in Oldham was found to be the worst culprit when it came to recording footage in toilets and changing rooms, admitting to having 20 cameras in these areas.
With 1.8m pupils being taught in these schools, there was an average of one camera for every 38 children.
In all, 90 percent of schools had CCTV cameras, with an average of 24 cameras in each of the 1,537 secondary schools that responded and 30 cameras in each of the 570 academies.
Earlier this year, Big Brother Watch found there are currently at least 51,600 CCTV cameras controlled by 428 local authorities.
The group said this posed the question of how the situation in schools had reached this level without any concerns being raised.
It also pointed out that the Home Office’s proposed regulation of CCTV would not apply to schools and that the new post of Surveillance Camera Commissioner would have no enforcement or inspection powers.
Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said the research brought with it some serious questions about the privacy of schoolchildren across Britain. He said the full extent of school surveillance was far higher than the group had expected and “would come as a shock to many parents”.
“Schools need to come clean about why they are using these cameras and what is happening to the footage,” Pickles said. “Local authorities also 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 government’s snooping bill does cover CCTV, but according to Big Brother Watch, the regulations aren’t robust enough to cover the spiralling schools problem.
Under the Protection of Freedoms Bill 2012 (Part 2, Chapter 1), the Home Secretary is required to prepare a code of practice containing guidance about surveillance camera systems. The Act outlines that relevant authorities ‘must have regard’ to the code, however “a failure on the part of any person to act in accordance with any provision of the surveillance camera code does not of itself make that person liable to criminal or civil proceedings”.
The draft Code also states “the commissioner has no enforcement or inspection powers” and that the code will only apply to a limited range of organisations.
Big Brother Watch argued that the code would therefore not apply to schools.
Charles Farrier, No CCTV spokesperson, told TechEye that the report showed “the worrying degree to which children are being tacitly taught that surveillance is a good thing”.
“Both school pupils and parents ought to be asking why it is that schools are becoming ever more like high security prisons,” Farrier said.
“We should also be asking what problem the are cameras aiming to solve,” he said. “We know from study after study that surveillance cameras have no significant effect on crime but what we have yet to fully understand is their impact on our society.
“Schools should set an example to children of how to solve problems through relationships between people rather than simply turning problems into reality TV,” Farrier said.
The research has shocked parents who have told TechEye that they believe the “spying state has gone too far”.
One told us: “I can understand that schools would need a certain degree of CCTV given the age we live in. However, installing cameras in the toilets and changing rooms shows that the spying state has gone too far.”
Another added: “What happens if this footage falls into the wrong hands? There are a few people working in schools that may not be as nice as they seem. I’d hate for my child to be watched in his underwear while getting changed for PE. It’s not a TV show, it’s our children’s lives.”
Following the report, the Department for Education sent out a generic statement where it claimed it had already acted to make it unlawful for schools to use biometric data like fingerprints without parents’ permission.
A spokeperson added: “CCTV can be beneficial in some cases but this is a decision that head teachers should take.
“Schools using CCTV are required by law to adhere to the Data Protection Act.”