Use of CCTV surveillance in schools

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Position statement
22 October 2013
ATL acknowledges that CCTV is now an established part of the education world and that, as the available technology develops, so will its usage in schools. ATL takes a balanced, reasoned approach to the use of surveillance CCTV in schools across the UK, with the expectation that those who introduce it and foster its application will always consider proportionality in its deployment and use.

It is unrealistic to expect there to be no use of surveillance CCTV in school grounds and buildings. Equally, it is plainly unacceptable to allow free rein of the use of CCTV in schools, especially in sensitive areas such as classrooms, changing rooms and toilets. The balance on school premises is clearly somewhere between these two extremes. ATL has major reservations about the streaming of images from surveillance CCTV to outside agencies, such as local authorities and other parties like parents, for whatever purposes, particularly from within classrooms and other teaching areas. ATL remains unconvinced of the benefits of such systems, either for school staff or education in general. As a consequence, ATL will continue to monitor the possible spread of such innovations, extending its policy (and guidance) if and when it is considered necessary.

Statutory requirements

In all uses of surveillance CCTV by schools, there must be complete compliance with all statutory requirements and codes of practice that are in force and relevant. ATL would wish to see all local authorities (LAs) having suitable, clear guidance for the use of school-based surveillance CCTV, which is made available and adhered to by the establishments for which they are responsible. Schools not under direct control should also use such guidance. It would be expected that independent schools would adopt similar guidance.

Proper control and management

ATL supports the principle that all school management teams should consider it to be of prime importance to display complete openness about the use of CCTV, engaging in full consultation with all parties who will be directly affected. ATL additionally believes that the boundaries for the use of surveillance CCTV and the data collected should be clear and stated, to guard against its misuse.

Security of the data collected is of paramount importance, as is the level and restriction of authorised access to it. ATL recommends that for this and many other reasons, including compliance with statutory requirements, every school should appoint a data controlling officer from the school's management to oversee and control all aspects of the use of surveillance CCTV in the school. This officer should submit a written report on the use of CCTV and the data collected to the headteacher and governors at least annually or more frequently as circumstances dictate, such as a major variation in extent or usage. Where an LA also acts as an overall data controller for schools under its jurisdiction, this will be welcomed as a positive additional level of safeguard and support.

Use and misuse of CCTV surveillance

A school is a place of work, where security and safety are reasonable expectations for all management, staff and pupils; surveillance CCTV can play its part in meeting those proper expectations. Equally, regard must be paid to the rights of the individual for reasonable privacy and the avoidance of unacceptable, intrusive monitoring for whatever reason.

Specifically, ATL believes that such technology should not be placed in classrooms to gather data for performance management purposes or in capability procedures. ATL believes that attempts to use the technology for such reasons could set unnecessary, unhelpful and potentially dangerous precedents, whereby the technology could be used partially and selectively, in place of already accepted, governable and more effective procedures to observe and assess a teacher's performance. Such purposes, even if clearly stated by a school, must be challenged, if only on the grounds that it is a disproportionate use of the technology where other agreed, effective and sounder methods already exist.

Moreover, ATL is yet to be convinced in general of the educational merit that surveillance cameras can allegedly bring to a classroom. Defenders of CCTV in classrooms have stated they will help manage poor behaviour yet teachers and support staff have been experts in managing behaviour for many years without the aid of cameras. Indeed the relationship of trust and respect, which exists between the majority of teachers and pupils, could well be eroded by the introduction of cameras. An exception to this stance may be in the restricted use of classroom-based CCTV for CPD purposes, but only as part of a well-defined training programme, and never on an ad hoc, stand-alone basis.

Just as importantly, ATL considers it unacceptable for any school, of its own accord, to engage in covert surveillance of any type. (If such surveillance is requested, for example, by the police for the detection and prevention of crime, specific legal requirements will have to be satisfied, mainly contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.) Schools should make clear where all CCTV cameras are located on their premises, as part of the published and widely available documentation on their use. It is a legal requirement that notices must be prominently displayed indicating the use of CCTV cameras, and from where further information on their use can be obtained.

It can be reasonably argued that surveillance CCTV is useful when schools wish to investigate incidents taking place in the school, and to corroborate or dismiss claims about an incident. It is important firstly to note that, however useful CCTV is as an investigatory tool, it is chiefly a reactive instrument. Evidence as to whether or not the installation of CCTV actually widely prevents negative behaviour, for example, is at best variable. Whilst some schools report significant reductions in bullying and vandalism apparently following the introduction of a CCTV system, there are other suggestions that it merely removes bad behaviour and possibly more serious incidents to other areas not covered by any surveillance. It has also been pointed out that camera coverage can be misleading, depending greatly upon positioning and quality of image, amongst other factors.

ATL therefore believes that, whilst surveillance CCTV can play a useful part in behaviour control in a school outside of classrooms, it should not be considered as the only instrument. It is certainly no substitute for other more direct, personal, proactive and effectively integrated methods to maintain good order. When examining CCTV images to investigate incidents, for example, there should be additional contextual evidence from other sources. In the extreme, the image of a school campus managed through a phalanx of strategically positioned surveillance cameras feeding pictures to banks of monitors being pored over by security staff is not a snapshot of society that ATL believes the majority of parents, education professionals and others want to see.

The future?

It is certain that, as new technology in the field of CCTV surveillance comes on the market, so those in control of schools will be attracted to its potential and be in favour of its installation. New schools will be especially enthused to encompass the technology in their plans and no doubt champion its use. The managers of some schools built, for instance, under a PFI contract, may feel they do not have much say in the installation and use of CCTV surveillance on their premises by the private company involved.

There is a danger, given that there is an increasing number of companies actively promoting their wares in the field of security surveillance, that schools will install first and then think later about how they can usefully employ the equipment. In such instances, there will also be scope for slack administration and potential misuse. ATL hopes that this will not be the general case and will seek at the earliest opportunity to give full advice to its members where the installation of surveillance CCTV is being contemplated at their school. ATL will also be able to consult with local authorities and schools about best practice and compliance with the law in relation to CCTV installation and use.

Diversity of opinion

ATL recognises that there is already a diversity of opinion regarding the presence and use of surveillance CCTV in schools, not only amongst teachers, but also amongst pupils. In surveys, many teachers are seen to be strongly in favour of the use of CCTV for certain purposes, such as security and behaviour surveillance. Some pupils express similar sentiments when interviewed but others feel uncomfortable about continually being watched. Some parents groups express reservations and concerns about this and other forms of pupil monitoring and data collection.

Many teachers are worried about the amount of cameras being placed in schools without them being included in any consultations. ATL respects this diversity of opinion and seeks to give clear, sound and effective guidance to its members that will both inform and protect them. ATL's guidance indicates how every school should seek to comply with the statutory requirements, and what ATL recommends as best practice in the use of surveillance CCTV throughout a school. The guidance also informs members what to expect from the use of surveillance CCTV in their schools and makes clear where ATL considers its use to be inappropriate, ill-advised and/or detrimental to its members' (and possibly other parties') best interests.


The use of surveillance technology such as CCTV in schools is an ever-increasing picture and one that must be monitored carefully in the future, as the technology provides more potential ways in which it can be employed by schools. ATL is confident that the policy and guidance it now has for members provides a sound, informative and useful grounding on the use of CCTV in schools, but it is also certain that this support will have to be expanded in the future, to address further a rapidly developing aspect of its members' professional lives.

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