In June, The Educator spoke to disability advocates, principals and a professor of law about whether CCTV cameras in Australia’s classrooms could be an effective deterrent against incidents of abuse.
David Roy, a senior lecturer at Newcastle University – who campaigns on behalf of children with a disability – said that the use of these cameras could provide the evidence to support or dismiss accusations.
“CCTV would be a protection for teachers and pupils alike. It could be used to support teaching standards by allowing staff to observe how they teach and this can be used to reflect and improve upon practice,” he told The Educator.
However, principals and academics cautioned that such a drastic measure would not only fail to prevent abuse incidents but also inhibit the free exchange of ideas and conversation in the classroom.
Nonetheless, some parents have put forth the idea as a formal submission at the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the treatment of children with a disability in NSW schools.
The parents, whose names were suppressed, told the inquiry was told that cameras could provide a live broadcast to parents, which would “ensure that children of all abilities are being treated appropriately”.
The submission added that the live feed would also prevent the potential for videos to be doctored by school staff worried about incriminating footage being referred to police.
“In short, all schools need public scrutiny and transparency because [of] the risk that certain members of staff not only chose to abuse and neglect vulnerable and isolated children in their care but actively seek out employment opportunities that allow them easy, unsupervised and often solitary access to them,” the submission read.
“[T]here are dog grooming services in the Sydney CBD that provide a log-in live stream to see what stage your pets' grooming is up to and how they are faring yet no such precautions for children in NSW government schools”.
However, Professor of Law and Information at UNSW, Graham Greenleaf, told The Educator that the surveillance by CCTV of teachers and students would inhibit the free exchange of ideas and conversation in the classroom.
“It is a very dangerous thing for our children to grow up thinking that the surveillance of their activities is normal and unremarkable when in fact they should be thinking that it is exceptional and should be opposed wherever possible,” Graham, who is also a board member of the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF), said.
Greenleaf pointed out that there are “varying levels of justification required for different types of CCTV surveillance.
“At one end, you would have continuous CCTV of classroom activity. I cannot imagine any circumstances whatsoever where that could be justified,” he said.
“At the other end of the spectrum, you might have surveillance cameras outside school grounds only used after school used and only in schools where there was a prior history of vandalism.”
Greenleaf said this would be at the “easier end” to justify having CCTV cameras, however he said there is a whole range of different traditions in between those two where intermediate levels of justification would be required before any of this could be regarded as “morally justifiable”, regardless of state law.
Australian Primary Principals Association president, Dennis Yarrington, told The Educator that CCTV cameras in classrooms for the purpose of preventing violence would send a bad message to schools.
“I don’t believe that having a CCTV camera in a classroom is going to teach the student or teacher how to improve their behaviour,” he said.
Yarrington said that classrooms use video to reflect on teaching and learning so that teachers can improve their practice, but said the use of cameras as a deterrent against violence would be a “failed strategy”.
“We’ve got speed cameras, but people still speed,” he said.
“The money spent on the technology, and the supervision spent on it, could be better spent on a better focused and targeted teaching program that promotes better behaviour and teaching practices.”