In January 2017, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) revealed that teachers and other school staff in Wales had been victims of over 4,500 physical and verbal attacks over the last 3 academic years. This was based on FOI requests received from 22 or 27 Welsh local authorities. That’s an average of 1,500 per year. The research claimed that this equated to 8 assaults per day within each school year. A staggering statistic … and this is just Wales! These figures were based upon attacks by pupils, but parents can be just as aggressive, as teachers within my own family can testify to.
So it’s clear that teachers need to feel safe and protected in the learning environment that is their place of work. Use of BWV is one way to achieve that but does it risk having the opposite effect to the one intended and is it beaching privacy rights?
The article I read today from a report in the Times Education Supplement (TES) states that 2 UK schools have been trialling the use of the BWV cameras. One approach is for teachers to wear the cameras on clothes in a permanent film mode. A switch would need to be activated for incidents to be recorded, encrypted and footage saved. This relies on the teacher knowing how to identify a “low-level incident” and be in a position (and remember) to flick the switch. This approach is aimed at reducing low-level disruption and disorder in the classroom, capturing images and showing pupils the error of their ways. I can see that with some pupil’s education and reason would work. But there will always be the hard-core that aim to be recorded for “peer kudos” and thus deliberately agitate teachers or create low level disorder.
A TES poll of 600 teachers has shown that 37.7% of respondents are in favour of body cameras in the classroom, with two thirds confident it will help them feel safer and 10.9% saying they believe it will become compulsory in all UK schools. I get that from the teachers’ perspective. In November 2016 the old debate about CCTV use in schools was still raging on though. Many perceive CCTV use as a positive measure and another deterrent, whilst others believe it could breed paranoia amongst staff, “Big Brother is watching you”. Isn’t the BWV the same thing? If anything more focused and targeted as it is in virtual movement wherever the teacher goes?
In 2012 a report in the Guardian said that there were more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in secondary schools and academies across England and Wales. 5 years on that has to be significantly more. There was uproar at the time because cameras had been placed in toilets and changing rooms at 200 schools. On one had you can see why that was a potential invasion of privacy. On the other hand it is also the location of a high proportion of nefarious activity – drugs, knife swapping etc…
Privacy, Data Protection and Human Rights are always a tricky balance where any form of surveillance is concerned. Use of BWVs will be no exception any more than their ‘predecessor’ CCTV was and is. I guess what it boils down to ultimately is the effectiveness of such measures.
Our whitepaper on ‘CCTV in Schools – Is surveillance in Schools appropriate?’ written in 2012 at the height of #cctvinschooltoiletsgate is still relevant today. As we said, in the majority of schools, there is insufficient school staff available to ensure that all areas of the schools grounds can be monitored, particularly where inappropriate behaviour may take place. Furthermore, school management have a duty of care to ensure that everyone that works, studies or visits their premises are safe. So, to protect pupils, deter theft, criminal damage and general crime, the proportionate use of CCTV surveillance has to form part of the solution. Therefore, why shouldn’t BWV do the same? But for any organisation, the use of cameras in any guise has to be beneficial. Is it effective with any of the following?
- Deterring crime such as vandalism, violence and bullying;
- Helping stop misbehaviour in lessons;
- Stopping students “bunking off” lessons;
- Combating smoking and drug use;
- Helping prevent theft;
- Reducing the fear of crime;
- Helping deter intruders from entering the school.
If the answer is yes then there is a legitimate and proven benefit for using it that staff, parents and pupils can buy into.
The jury is still out on BWCs in schools in the UK. We undoubtedly have a problem with increasing physical and verbal attacks on teachers within this nation of ours. Whether this will be the answer remains to be seen. Currently 80-85% of schools have some form of CCTV and it’s estimated that nearly 50% of schools in England use biometrics or fingerprinting technology. Some even have police officers at the doors. These help reduce the incidents of items in our list above clearly. BWV may be more effective with our top 4 issues.
So, I leave you with this thought. BWV technology has been in use within American schools since 2015 but mostly they are not worn by teachers, rather school resource officers. These are sworn law enforcement officers or LEOs (yes that’s what it stands for my police procedural drama fans) with a responsibility for security and crime prevention. Given that BWV trials in the UK are aimed at reducing low-level disruption e.g. talking, fidgeting, passing notes etc … not more serious misdemeanours, will this deliver the deterrent we want? Or will it simply serve to increase the persistent low-level behaviours teachers face every day, the “peer kudos” syndrome I mentioned earlier, and detract teachers from the job they are there to do – teach. Schools Out on that one.