HALF of York’s secondary schools have been filming pupils on CCTV without telling parents, sparking condemnation from privacy campaigners.

An investigation by The Press has found that while all ten secondaries in the city have cameras installed, only four informed parents first. Five did not, while one cannot find the original records.

The findings came as calls were made for the cameras to be taken out of schools or switched off, after research claimed they could be doing more harm than good.

New academic studies indicate that rather than bringing benefits, CCTV in schools can fuel suspicion, indoctrinate children into a culture of surveillance and may even be illegal.

One school, Huntington, has 113 cameras – more than City of York Council has in the whole of the city centre, although its head defended the cameras.

The city’s education boss, Coun Carol Runciman, said CCTV had gone too far in society as a whole.

She said schools had to adhere to data protection laws when using CCTV, but added: “It’s important that young people have their privacy when they need it and we should not see CCTV as the answer to any problems schools may have.”

Terri Dowty, director of Action For The Rights of Children, said: “We need to consider whether we want children to get used to this level of surveillance in their daily lives, because it has knock-on effects. We are habituating them to this high level surveillance to the point that they will consider it normal.”

She said CCTV should be used only outside school hours, for site security, and not for internal discipline, and schools had a moral duty to tell pupils and parents when it was being used.

Dr Emmeline Taylor, a criminologist and researcher at Salford University, said no independent research had shown CCTV to benefit schools, despite its widespread use.

She has conducted two new studies, due to be published later this year, examining how CCTV in schools fits with the Data Protection Act, and studying pupils’ views of cameras.

She found many pupils saw cameras as “symptomatic of an underlying mistrust of them” and as the “embodiment of suspicion”. She said there was also evidence they could even cause some pupils to misbehave, as they felt they were seen as troublemakers anyway.

Dr Taylor also said the Data Protection Act was not strong enough to ensure that schools followed the law.

“Without specific guidelines for schools and stringent regulation, it is likely that numerous schools will not be adhering to the law,” she concluded.

Her other paper concluded: “Schools are contributing to the emergence of a surveillance society and fundamentally habituating young people to accept a heightened level of scrutiny.”

She said it was a “crucial time” for more research and called for an informed public debate about whether such technology was advantageous.

The Press used the Freedom of Information Act to find out how CCTV was used in each of York’s secondary schools.

‘CCTV usage is reviewed regularly’

Fulford School was more open than any other in answering The Press’s questions – but perhaps had most reason to be.

Head teacher Steve Smith is the only one in the city to have installed cameras in the pupils’ toilets, but insists it was done carefully and with good reason.

In a letter to parents, he said there had been long-running vandalism problems in the toilets at lunchtimes and breaks, and said other attempts to combat it had failed.

He said cameras covered sinks and floorspace, rather than cubicles or urinals, and had proved successful in catching one group of troublemakers. Only two parents complained, one of whom dropped their objection after hearing the school’s case.

Fulford’s footage is also only viewed when deemed necessary.

Mr Smith said: “The monitors in the control room are switched off and only looked at if there is an incident.”

He said parents had sometimes asked for footage of incidents involving their child and said it had proved useful evidence, often disproving false claims.

Mr Smith said: “CCTV was put in place initially to help improve the safeguarding of students and to deter acts of vandalism (both during and after the school day) and break-ins. We find that the coverage is effective and we review their use regularly.”

Late-night thieves caught

John Tomsett is head of Huntington School, and says his experience completely contradicts the latest research.

His school has 113 cameras, more than any other school in the city and more than the 75 the council has for the whole of the city centre, but he says they are working and have driven down crime.

He said: “When I arrived here, we did not have a comprehensive CCTV system so I put one in and went through all the proper procedures, and the reduction in theft has been significant.

“Our success rate in finding out who has committed theft has been tremendously good.”

He said high-quality CCTV footage had led to the prosecution of thieves who broke in late at night, and said the cameras had also helped catch vandals, minor thieves, and people setting off fire alarms.

He said the cameras were on all the time and had caused no upset.

He added: “When we have challenges from parents about events, we can show them the CCTV. There was a false claim about a member of staff and when we looked at the CCTV it was clear they had done nothing the pupil had said.”

How many CCTV cameras does your child’s school have?

All Saints’ RC
How many cameras? 14
Where? Not stated
Were parents told? No

Archbishop Holgate’s
How many cameras? 11
Where? Inside and outside
Were parents told? Yes

How many cameras? 23
Where? Outside around campus, in IT rooms and in corridors.
Were parents told? No

Canon Lee
How many cameras? 40
Where? Inside and out.
Were parents told? Yes

How many cameras? 52
Where? Cloakrooms, corridors, IT rooms, main gate, A-block, reception, courtyard, music, science, H-block extension, boys’ and girls’ toilets, A, B and H blocks.
Were parents told? Yes

How many cameras? 113
Where? Outside and inside – mainly in corridors and “high risk areas”. All computer rooms have a camera, but there are none in changing rooms, toilet facilities or rest rooms.
Were parents told? No

Joseph Rowntree
How many cameras? 22
Where? Not stated
Were parents told? Not recorded

Manor CE
How many cameras? 27
Where? “At strategic places” inside and outside, covering entrances and car parks
Were parents told? No

How many cameras? 12
Where? One in reception; the rest on the outside of various buildings, including three overlooking allotments in Philadelphia Terrace in conjunction with the local community, to deter antisocial behaviour and intruders.
Were parents told? Yes

York High School
How many cameras? 75 (this figure includes those at Energise Leisure Centre)
Where? A mixture of indoor and outdoor locations
Were parents told? No