U.K. regulator warns on school CCTV schemes

Published 10 November 2009

A Manchester school installed CCTVs in school during the holidays, without notifying parents; the cameras were filming students changing for PE classes — and the pictures were kept on the schools’ computers; Information Commissioner says that there is no need for cameras to be on during the day, when the school is staffed

The U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office has reiterated common sense advice for schools wishing to use CCTV to monitor kids. This follows a major row at a Salford school last week. Two new security cameras were installed over the holidays which were filming children getting changed for PE lessons. The parents were not impressed with this.

John Oates writes that some began protesting outside Charlestown Primary School in Manchester to get the cameras switched off or at least pointed away from areas where kids were changing. Worried teachers then called local police to get the protesters removed.
After police officers had spoken to parents, however, they performed a U-turn and entered the school to seize the CCTV footage. A computer hard disk was also taken by officers.

One worried parent told the Manchester Evening News: “We were originally told that the cameras would hardly ever be used. But in the last week we have just found out that they are recording all the time. The children have to get changed in the classrooms because there are no changing facilities. We think it is wrong that the cameras are there. It is a breach of their privacy.”

The primary school has switched off the two cameras which caused the problems. Salford Council is promising a wider review of its use of the technology in schools.
Jonathan Bamford, assistant Information Commissioner, said:

CCTV should only be used for a pressing need. It is perfectly reasonable for a school to use CCTV to help secure its premises, but it shouldn’t be left switched on capturing images of school children changing during the day. When a school is staffed and children are on the premises, cameras will not generally be required for security purposes. Organizations that do capture images using CCTV are required by law to adhere to the Principles of the Data Protection Act. Guidance for organizations using CCTV is available from Http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/topic_specific_guides/cctv.aspx

Police are taking no further action against the school or teachers.