CCTV in schools

CCTV in schools has grown significantly in recent years – this is a source of concern to some.

Objections include a general principle that CCTV has no place in a learning environment, scepticism about whether CCTV can achieve its purported aims and more specific worries about the use to which images may be put.

Given that CCTV is an established feature in schools, governors and school leaders have a duty to ensure that its use is lawful and compliant with established codes of practice, necessary to counter arguments from those remaining sceptical about its deployment in schools.

The legal background

Guidance for schools on handling and processing data captured by CCTV [and other surveillance systems] is enshrined in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 – the GDPR provide the statutory basis for these procedures.

The decision to install CCTV

The use of CCTV is justified if its intention is to maintain the safety of pupils, other members of the school community and those with a legitimate reason to be on the premises. It is also an acceptable means of protecting buildings and facilities.

Signage should be displayed in the vicinity of cameras and, preferably, in a prominent place near the entrance(s) to the school. The information on signage should:

  • alert people that cameras are in operation
  • stipulate the purposes for the cameras
  • give details of the organisation operating the system with appropriate contacts.

Signage should only allude to actual cameras in operation and not give the impression that surveillance is in operation when this is not the case.

CCTV should be seen as part of a strategy to enhance safety and security. Consideration ought to be given to alternative solutions, such as improved lighting. You should also review the way in which cameras are located in areas where there is an identifiable need and there are no viable alternatives.

It is good practice to inform pupils, parents and the school workforce that CCTV is going to be deployed. Data protection requirements would suggest that your school’s privacy notice should be updated to reflect the use of CCTV. Failure to do so may be construed as a breach of the Human Rights Act and the GDPR. Communications surrounding CCTV should include your reasons for deployment and an explanation why it’s the most effective measure.

In practice, and for most schools, it is suggested that for each piece of surveillance equipment installed the following questions should be asked:

  • What are the perceived and intended benefits of this equipment?
  • Have alternatives been considered?
  • What are the possible risks to privacy?
  • What measures will be put in place to mitigate any identified risks?

Schools have a statutory requirement to notify the Information Commissioner that they are installing CCTV and to outline the purpose for using the technology.

Acceptable uses of CCTV and compliance with legal requirements

This may include:

  • To control access
  • To monitor security
  • For site management, an example being monitoring parking or delivery arrivals
  • For monitoring areas of the school premises that are out of sight or not visited on a frequent basis by staff
  • To act as a deterrent against anti-social acts and trespass
  • To determine whether a pupil should be searched if suspected of being in possession of an illegal or banned item. Searches can only be conducted if the suspected item is stipulated in the school’s behaviour policy.

Some guidance documents refer to CCTV being used for ‘general and focused observations of children and young people and staff’. NAHT advises caution in regard to this. There needs to be clarity and transparency about the purpose of such use, the basis of this being that it is both justifiable (for example, to help avoid accidents on staircases during lesson change-overs) and that certain steps have been considered:

  • Are there alternative solutions?
  • Has a privacy impact assessment been carried out?
  • Have all relevant parties been consulted and informed? In the case of the student body the relevant consultation could take place via the school council.

It is important to remember that CCTV images may contain information that could harm or distress people, for example if an incident captured on CCTV is posted on the internet. For this reason and to comply with the law, you need to carefully control CCTV images you capture.

Data should be kept on an encrypted system and only certain people in the school should be able to access it. In addition to this, the individuals who have access to CCTV footage need to receive specific training on controlling CCTV images. You will need to keep a log of this training to provide evidence in the case of a data breach or a complaint made to the ICO.

The law only allows you to keep personal data for as long as it is needed for the purpose for which it was collected. After that, you must delete it. On this basis, a policy regarding the length of time CCTV footage is kept should be developed and implemented.

CCTV in the classroom

NAHT’s view is that CCTV is a blunt and restricted tool for monitoring pupil conduct in the classroom.

  • Disruptive behaviour is not always physical in nature. Most CCTV cannot capture unacceptable verbal content. The lack of an audio recording in most CCTV systems de-contextualises what has been captured
  • There are protocols to be observed in the use of CCTV footage for evidence purposes
  • Some pupils may be tempted to ‘play to the camera’
  • If a colleague is experiencing problems with behaviour management, the mere presence of CCTV cameras will not address the underlying issues
  • The presence of CCTV cameras could inhibit legitimate classroom activities.

NAHT believes the observation of teaching and learning needs to be proportionate, planned and strategically driven. The association supports the idea that videoing classroom activity can be part of that process. This can be used for peer-based analysis of aspects of teaching or for capturing known aspects of good practice for wider CPD purposes. CCTV, at best, is an incomplete tool for performance management purposes as it, more often than not, does not include audio. Furthermore, the lack of control over the cameras cannot enable an appropriate focus on teaching and learning to be possible.

Members should also bear in mind that the ICO lays down stringent conditions for the dissemination of CCTV derived footage and these will restrict the extent to which such images can be legitimately used for performance management purposes.

Sensitive areas

There are some parts of a school in which individuals have the right to expect a greater degree of privacy than is the norm elsewhere. The obvious areas are changing rooms, showers and lavatories.

The ICO holds the view that a school would be highly unlikely to be able to submit a justifiable reason for locating CCTV in such areas.

There could be a justification for locating cameras pointing at the entrance to such areas. Examples might include concern over vandalism or bullying in lavatories or monitoring usage during lesson times. Alternatives need to have been considered and reasons for their rejection documented and consultation and explanation needs to have taken place with the school community.

NAHT advises members to write to parents and carers as part of this ethos of transparency.

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