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Do We Really Need Body Worn Cameras In The Classroom?

08/02/2017 12:37
JIM WATSON via Getty Images

First it was police officers, then it was council officials and now it seems schools are beginning to issue teachers with body worn cameras.

Two UK schools have started trialling the technology to gather evidence of serious misbehaviour or to capture "moments worth sharing".

Supporters have stated that they will use "education board-approved guidelines" to ensure best practice. This is good to hear, but the question we really should be asking is should these cameras be used in the classroom at all when they pose a clear threat to pupils' privacy?

Already many schools have introduced a wide array of surveillance technologies including CCTV cameras and biometric systems as well as using classroom management software.

The use of this technology is spreading faster than the evidence to support it can appear. Early enthusiasts for equipping police officers with cameras stated that they would help cut levels of violence towards officers and reduce use of force by police. But last year the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge released a study showing that the rates of violence faced by officers was 15% higher when they were given discretion over when to activate their body worn cameras.

It's not only the filming which raises questions. In an age where high profile hacks are front-page news and stories of data misuse are becoming ever more common the security of the footage has to be given proper thought. In 2015 UK police forces were criticised by MPs and cyber-security experts for storing body worn camera footage in potentially insecure ways. The schools in this trial have to be able to show that lessons have been learned and that any information will be safe. Claims of "government-approved encryption" and "a secure cloud platform" sound good, but even the best protection is not a guarantee of security. Sometimes the best protection is not to collect the footage in the first place.

On the basis of the limited information available this scheme sounds like an overreaction to problems which have existed for as long as schools have. The two schools using the technology have to make sure that both parents and pupils understand what is being done and have the opportunity to get their concerns heard.

The worst thing that could happen now is that more schools rush to introduce this technology before the results from the two using it at the moment can be assessed.

It's vital that body worn cameras are used only when they can be effective and proportionate. Nothing published so far is convincing of either when it comes to using them in schools, but with a Times Education Supplement poll showing that more than 1 in 10 teachers believe a time will come when body worn cameras are mandatory in schools it looks like the debate has only just begun.

This is a move which has the potential to fundamentally change how teachers and pupils interact. We will be keeping a close eye on what happens next.

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