School CCTV under the lens

The tragic murder of Leeds school teacher, Ann Maguire, in her classroom in April this year has highlighted the changing nature of security threats facing schools across the UK. As the debate rages on between the issue of civil liberties and the growing necessity for tough security measures on campus, the severity of this incident in particular raises the question of whether there is indeed a place for CCTV cameras in the classroom.
Over the past decade, the UK security sector has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of CCTV solutions that are being operated in an intelligent, proactive, way so that suspicious activity can be identified and tackled as it happens. There has also been more attention given to the carefully controlled application of CCTV in the classroom.
While tending to attract staunch opposition from anti-CCTV campaigners, surveillance in the classroom is most often welcomed by students, staff and parents alike. On a day-to-day basis, cameras are used to help address several issues; i.e. bullying, smoking, drug use, theft, unwanted intruders and fires. With video evidence providing an unbiased, impartial viewpoint from which disputes can be settled both quickly and easily.
In the 2008-2009 academic year, children were suspended from school on over 80,000 occasions for attacking teachers and classmates – a chilling statistic that has sadly been brought home by this year’s latest event while clearly demonstrating the key preventative role that CCTV in schools can play.

Privacy issues form the major part of anti‑CCTV campaigners’ rhetoric – it is often suggested that footage may be distributed without the permission of those filmed. However, by its very nature, CCTV footage should remain out of the public eye with the exception of circumstances where it is absolutely necessary to resolve disagreements or disputes. In such cases the benefits and objectivity of CCTV are unrivalled.
Another criticism of CCTV in schools has been the cost of installation, maintenance and monitoring. However, as detailed below, CCTV can present a valuable opportunity for savings. That is, video surveillance can effectively reduce unwanted costs by alerting security officers, decreasing response times and reducing the damage to schools overall from a wide array of threats.

The cost to schools
According to the 2003 Schools Security Concerns Research Report, some local authorities estimated that the cost of replacing equipment in their schools due to burglary and theft can run to over £200,000 in one year alone.
Integrated CCTV systems provide a unique way of deterring unwanted intruders by allowing officers to differentiate between intruders and students. Similarly tools such as Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras can be integrated into school security systems to ensure security officers are notified if known offenders or suspicious vehicles enter campuses.
CCTV in schools provides a further opportunity for savings in terms of fire prevention. According to a report by the Department for Education and Skills (Previously referred to as the Department for Education and Employment) the annual cost of fires in schools is estimated to be around £115 million. Fire detection integrated with CCTV can allow security officers to distinguish between genuine threats from fire and student pranks (false alarms) by providing instant visual verification.

Centralised systems
One option for decreasing installation costs is the use of IP based cameras. IP CCTV decreases installation costs by utilising existing networks infrastructure – in essence making it possible to locate cameras anywhere along the network. IP CCTV also makes it easy to store images in a centralised, secure manner; a useful way of mediating privacy issues.
Newport City Council was the first authority to introduce internet-based CCTV technology into schools, funded by a £500,000 grant from the Home Office. Phil Cox, principal consultant at Newport City Council, said that the existence of the National Grid for Learning has lent itself to easy and low-cost implementation: “We wanted to use an infrastructure that was already in place, as building a new one is where most of the costs are. Because the grid connects all the schools, we did not have to re-invent the infrastructure.” IP CCTV is just one example of how technological advancement can actually decrease overheads within the education sector.

There have also been several high profile instances where a teacher’s integrity and career has been ruined by claims, which have subsequently proven to be malicious. With CCTV in place there is much greater potential to use digital video evidence to resolve such situations and throw out false accusations before damage is caused to the reputation of the school and a specific teacher and also, crucially, to address legitimate incidents where further action may be necessary.

Teachers claim that cameras in the classroom can help stamp out students’ false allegations against them, providing an added level of protection for both their careers and personal integrity while at the same time affording parents full confidence in terms of how their children are being treated while at school.
While CCTV footage can be a valuable asset in terms of evidence, the impact of the presence of CCTV cameras alone has proven effective as a means of decreasing vandalism in schools. That is, CCTV can actually foster ‘behaviour modification’ due to its deterrent effect, a factor which has been proven over a period of time as long as 20 years. For example in the United States, Pinellas County (Florida) school district found as far back as the late 1990s that the presence of surveillance cameras was a sufficient deterrent to considerably reduce most of the violence and defacement that had overwhelmed district schools in the past.
A valuable tool
Additionally, classroom CCTV can be a valuable tool in assisting with teacher training, enabling specific lessons to be reviewed – without the distraction of a teaching colleague in the classroom – and valuable feedback provided.
Interestingly, a study by Taylor (2011) which looked at “Awareness, understanding and experiences of CCTV amongst teachers and pupils in three UK schools” found that the rise of surveillance in schools represents a process whereby intense technological surveillance is normalised through habituation. That is, while students and teachers seemed to show initial qualms during the installation period and immediately afterwards, this soon dissipated as the cameras became part of everyday life. This research highlights the changing landscape in attitudes towards CCTV – real life benefits and protection are being shown to outweigh paranoia and skepticism among law-abiding citizens.

Facing the challenge
According to James Kelly, chief executive of the BSIA, security need not encroach on a productive and enjoyable learning environment: “Balancing a welcoming atmosphere with comprehensive security can be a challenge, but the range of products and services currently on the market can often successfully be integrated and used together to meet this challenge and achieve a suitable balance, resulting in a security programme that’s non-intrusive, yet quietly effective.”
The employment of CCTV systems in the educational sector, however, goes beyond their adoption in the classrooms. Today, educational institutions are taking active security measures to face-up to the challenges of disruption caused by mindless vandalism.

With CCTV technology such as BS8418 and Video Content Analysis being utilised to ensure better use of resources and to effectively protect perimeters as well as monitor movement in and out of the premises, there is no limit to the scope of CCTV systems in helping keeping school premises and its staff and pupils safe and secure.
Moreover, the widespread adoption of mobile CCTV systems in means of transport such as school buses, to evaluate incidents and monitor behaviour of pupils, further reinforces the flexible and proactive nature of this type of security system.
CCTV has been subject to a number of very important legislative papers and standards; for example, the Data Protection Act and Human Rights Act.

Organisations such as the BSIA provide expert independent advice and additional guidance to ensure that a system is not only compliant but fit for purpose.

Further information