Use of body cameras in schools ‘risks turning students into suspects’

A stressed teacher in a classroom

The school behaviour tsar has warned against the introduction of body cameras for teachers in mainstream classrooms, saying that it risks turning students into suspects.

Tom Bennett, a teacher, was responding to reports that a three-month pilot scheme is taking place in two secondary schools to test the use of body cameras as a way of helping teachers to tackle low-level disorder in classrooms.

The government’s adviser on classroom discipline said: “I’d be very cautious about introducing bodycams into mainstream classrooms. There are possibly situations where they might be appropriate – in schools where violence is more common, for example, as a means of supporting staff.

“But cameras massively alter the relationship between the wearer and their surroundings. Pupils are seen as suspects rather than students.”

Bennett said schools should instead focus on staff training to build supportive school cultures based on firm boundaries and compassion. “I’d say that cameras were an expensive and complex solution to a problem that can be solved in other, far more meaningful ways than tech,” he added.

Other teachers reacted with a mixture of horror and scepticism to the prospect of being asked to wear a body camera. “I’m a teacher, not a police officer,” said one sixth-form teacher, who said she would refuse to work in a school where they were used.

“Personally I would not feel comfortable if I felt my teachers needed to wear body cameras,” said one headteacher. “Depressing,” was the view of another.

A poll by the Times Educational Supplement on Wednesday found, however, that more than a third of the 600 teachers (37%) surveyed would be willing to wear a body camera to help combat misbehaviour by pupils, while one in 10 believed bodycams would eventually become mandatory in UK schools.

Body-worn video technology is increasingly favoured by police and parking wardens and has been used in US schools since 2015. But any plan to make UK teachers wear them in the classroom is likely to meet with opposition.

While some in the education sector are concerned about the potential damage it could cause to the relationship between teachers and students, others warned that it could lead to a misconception that violence in classrooms was the norm.

Details of the trial were revealed by Tom Ellis, principal lecturer at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth – who has previously conducted research into the impact of body cameras when used by police.

According to Ellis, public order and assault crimes went down by nearly 20% when frontline police officers wore body cameras. The hope is that if worn by teachers it would have a similar impact on pupils’ disruptive behaviour. Details of the two schools involved in the trial have so far not been disclosed.

As with police forces, all footage in the schools is recorded with government-approved encryption and securely stored on a dedicated cloud platform. Filming occurs only when it is “legitimate, proportionate and necessary”, according to Ellis, and it is intended to be “incident specific” rather than continuous surveillance.

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