Two schools in the UK are testing the use of body cameras worn by teachers in order to deter bad behavior in the classroom. The move is part of an “unstoppable” trend for the adoption of this technology, says criminal justice researcher Tom Ellis, who revealed the existence of the three-month trials in a report for The Conversation.
According to Ellis, the cameras are optional, only turned on when it is “legitimate, proportionate, and necessary,” and are intended to help teachers resolve conflicts and reduce low-level disturbances. “The cameras are not on all the time,” Ellis told The Guardian. “Where there is a perceived threat to a member of staff or pupil for example, they are used. It’s not like a surveillance camera.”
The names of the schools involved are not being disclosed in order for the trials to be carried out without interference. Children are told when they’re about to be filmed by teachers, and any recorded footage is encrypted and stored in a cloud system similar to that used for by the UK police for their body cameras.
The Information Commissioner’s office — the UK agency responsible for data privacy — has said there’s no issue with schools using body cameras as long as the footage is stored securely. The Department for Education has also commented that the trials are a matter for individual schools to handle. A spokesperson for the department told The Guardian: “The schools are acting within the law as far as we know but we haven’t investigated this matter.”
Schools in the US are also experimenting with the use of body cameras, but their deployment has mostly been limited to “school resource officers” — sworn law enforcement officers who work exclusively within schools. Giving the same technology to teachers as a way of controlling pupils is arguably a very different measure.
In both the US and the UK, body cameras are now relatively common among law enforcement, although reactions to their use is mixed. Although trials have shown that wearing cameras leads to reduced a number of assaults and complaints against officers, one of the touted benefits of the technology — transparency — hasn’t really come to fruition. In the US, a study of 25 police departments using the cameras found that only two shared footage with citizens who wanted evidence when making a complaint against an officer. Similarly, there have been a number of incidents where officers have simply turned off their cameras, rather than record arrests and killings.
Of course, the stakes for teachers are not as high as for police officers, but the evidence so far suggests body cameras are not a straightforward fix to any problem.