IF YOU TOLERATE THIS…

Surveillance cameras in West Lothian school toilets? You just know that was dreamt up by a group of beardy blokes with a lot of pens in their top pockets.

Some of the head teachers said the cameras deterred violent behaviour, vandalism and smoking, and gave the children an increased sense of security. Hang on a moment, cameras deter nothing. They simply help identify the culprit after the event – if they happened to do what they did in an area covered by the lens.

The cameras aren’t protecting your kids, it’s just identifying who did what to whom once it’s all over. And, anyway, preventing unacceptable behaviour is the job of teaching staff and prefects, not the cameras.

When I was at school there was a rota of regular patrols by everybody from the headmaster to the janitor. They didn’t just sit quaffing coffee and sticky buns in the staffroom. They did their job and would glide silently around the corridors, quadrangle and toilet areas – you never knew where or when one of them would creep up behind you. A camera can’t do that.

And as for smoking; a teacher sniffing the air would soon be alerted to the fact that somebody nearby was having a puff on a Woodbine. A camera can’t do that either.

But not to worry; the cameras will only be pointing at the sink area, right? But what right-minded thug is going to give somebody a slap there? Who wants to vandalise a tap? And what tobacco addict would use the washbasin as an ashtray? All that goes on in the cubicle area – where we are assured the cameras won’t be pointing. Yet.

The executive councillor for education said, and I quote: (the cameras) “…are popular with the majority of pupils.” Popular? Hands up all those who believe for one minute that the majority of youngsters are happy to be filmed in the toilets. Must have been an interesting, in-depth survey, that one.

But here’s the fun part. When the instigators of this lazy lunacy came up with the idea, did they not research what had happened in other schools? At Lipsom School in Plymouth the cameras were taken out following “a furious protest from parents” in which they kept their kids away from school, and hundreds of the youngsters signed a petition.

Another school in Norwich found themselves the subject of a BBC radio enquiry. Grace Academy in Birmingham ended up trying to defend their thinking on Sky News for the same thing.

Even the then education secretary was brought into the fight when parents at Westhoughton High, near Bolton, discovered the school had CCTV cameras in the toilets. What’s more, over half the members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) admit the cameras were not just used to deter antisocial behaviour, but were used to monitor students.

So, if we tolerate this, where will it all end? Well, in 2007 it was revealed that schools had fingerprinted thousands of primary school children without their parent’s consent. The Department for Children, Schools and Families ruled that schools need not obtain consent from parents should they wish to obtain and store biometric data from children. Bet you didn’t know that.

Equally worrying, not happy with CCTV in just the toilets, police were called to a school in Salford when parents discovered that children had been filmed changing into their PE kit. The police seized the film after having to negotiate with the school.

CCTV cameras in children’s toilets? Does that, in any way SOUND right to you? No, the solution is simple. Go back to the old system where the teachers get off their backsides and take regular forays around their school to keep an eye on what’s going on.

Cheaper, too, I would wager.

Drew McAdam

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