Schools hit back in cameras in toilets row

Published date: 13 September 2012 |
Published by: Jim Green
Read more articles by Jim Green

Queen's Park High School 

HIGH school headteachers have slammed “misleading” reports claiming they are operating CCTV cameras in toilets or changing rooms used by pupils.

Queen’s Park High School in Handbridge, Chester and Upton High School, Upton, both Chester, are both named on a list of 207 schools across the UK with cameras in toilet or changing areas.

Anti-surveillance campaigners claim the use of cameras in such places will shock parents and raises serious questions about the privacy of schoolchildren.

The question asked by The Big Brother Watch Group to headteachers across the UK concerned the number of cameras located in school changing rooms or bathrooms as of March 1, 2012.

The group included responses in general washroom areas as they asked about bathrooms rather than toilets.

Queen’s Park High School has two cameras with Upton-by-Chester High School having one, but the headteachers of both schools say the reports are not true and have blasted those behind them.

Queen’s Park High School headteacher Stephen Casey said the school had two cameras in an open plan hand wash area but none in toilets or changing areas.

He said: “I must set the record straight following reports stating that Queen’s Park High School has CCTV cameras in toilets and changing rooms.

“These reports are wholly inaccurate. The school does not have CCTV cameras in any of the areas that have been stated.”

Upton High School headteacher Jane Holland said her school had one camera in a hand wash area to monitor anti-social behaviour.

She said: “These reports are very misleading. We do not have any cameras in our toilets or changing rooms.

“We have a CCTV camera located in a unisex hand wash area outside our toilets.

You have to go through two doors to get into the actual toilets.

“The camera is there for security reasons. Why else would it be there?”

Campaign group Big Brother Watch published the report following Freedom of Information requests to more than 2,000 schools.

Ellesmere Port Catholic High School, with three cameras, was also on the list.

Headteacher Peter Lee said the cameras in the school covered the access areas in the toilets and preserved pupils’ modesty.

He said: “The images from the cameras are only used to identify those who misuse the facilities after the fact.

“They are not routinely monitored and the images are stored for a short time in a digital form which is overwritten every few days.”

Speaking about the school’s response to the FOI request from The Big Brother Watch group Mr Lee said he interpreted “bathrooms” in the American sense and responded accordingly.

He added: “Given the nature of changing rooms and the level of adult supervision we have thought it inappropriate to mount cameras in those areas.”

Big Brother Watch director Nick Pickles said schools should “come clean” about their use of CCTV cameras.

He said: “This research raises serious questions about the privacy of schoolchildren across Britain, with some schools having one camera for every five pupils and hundreds of schools using cameras in toilets and changing rooms.

“The full extent of school surveillance is far higher than we expected and will come as a shock to many parents.

“Schools need to come clean about why they are using these cameras and what is happening to the footage.

“Local authorities also need to be doing far more to rein in excessive surveillance in their areas and ensuring resources are not being diverted from more effective alternatives.”

Figures published by Big Brother Watch suggested 825 cameras were located in school toilets or changing rooms across the country.

Responses from 2,107 high schools showed they used 47,806 cameras with 26,887 inside school buildings.

Big Brother Watch estimates the number of CCTV cameras in schools in England, Wales and Scotland is now 106,710.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have already acted to make it unlawful for schools to use biometric data like fingerprints without parents’ permission.

“CCTV can be beneficial in some cases but this is a decision that headteachers should take.

“Schools using CCTV are required by law to adhere to the Data Protection Act.”

No schools in Wrexham or Flintshire were listed as operating CCTV cameras in toilets or changing rooms.

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