Schools in Cambridgeshire have been accused of snooping on their pupils after it emerged one college has 114 CCTV cameras.
Ely College has nearly one camera for every 10 pupils and says its network of eyes-in-the-sky help it to pick up on any injuries suffered on site, resolve disputes between pupils and provide evidence in criminal investigations.
But civil liberties group Big Brother Watch described it as an “astonishing level of surveillance for a school”.
See a league table of schools using CCTV at the bottom of this article.
Nick Pickles, director of the group, said: “There are entire towns with fewer cameras. CCTV has been shown to do little to either deter or solve crime, despite the significant cost both financially and in terms of privacy.
“I am sure parents would share my concern that the cameras should not be operational during school hours and if they are, quite why there is such enthusiasm to keep a very close eye on pupils.”
The Ely College figure was revealed in a Freedom of Information request by the News that was sent to state primary and secondary schools across Cambridge and South Cambs.
The News has found there are at least 519 cameras on school sites across the county, costing schools hundreds of thousands of pounds to install and maintain.
The figure is likely to be higher as not all schools responded to the requests for information.
Reasons given by schools for having the cameras included the prevention of crime, such as vandalism and trespassing; to provide evidence for police; and to monitor the behaviour of pupils in less supervised areas and as part “student management”.
Jon Duveen, of Cambridgeshire NUT, thought there was a legitimate use of CCTV at entrances to schools, but believed many had gone “too far” by using cameras to keep tabs on children and staff.
He said: “I have even heard of a case in Cambridgeshire where a camera was put in the toilets, though not the cubicles, I should say. That is going too far. You have to trust pupils.
“I always think that if you come to rely on CCTV cameras for managing students you lose that personal touch that schools are supposed to be all about.”
He added: “I think it is a worry. I do not think you should use CCTV for student management. I think that’s becoming a problem.”
Many schools, however, did not have any cameras and said they were not needed.
Alan Stevens, associate principal at Sawtry Community College, said they inherited some cameras from the local authority but these had since been turned into dummy cameras.
He added: “We are a school, not a prison.”
Judy Goldsmith, headteacher at Guilden Morden Primary School in Royston, which has no cameras, said: “We have been advised by the police that they are not an effective deterrent for schools and can merely attract people to vandalise them.”
Referring to tight school budgets, Amanda Tuck, headteacher at Petersfield Primary School in Orwell, said in her response to the News: “No CCTV cameras – can’t afford them!”
A spokesman for Ely College, which has about 1,300 pupils on its books, said: “These cameras provide security coverage over our large campus area, making site security vastly more efficient and effective, and helping us in our responsibility to ensure student safety.
“The footage has a wide range of practical uses. It regularly helps resolve disputes and provides remote monitoring of stairwells and other areas in case of falls or injury.
“Less regularly, it provides evidence for use in criminal investigation.
“For example, footage was provided to police during a recent spate of lead theft from the college grounds.”
A spokesman for Cambridgeshire County Council said: “The decision to install CCTV or not rests with schools and governing bodies. The county council would support appropriate use of CCTV in schools, but headteachers and governors are better placed to assess whether it is necessary for their particular school.”
When asked if it recommended CCTV to schools, a police spokesman said: “As with other areas, CCTV can be a valuable tool for deterring crime, making places safer and identifying people who have committed crimes, enabling schools and the police to take appropriate action.
“It is one of many tools that can be used and can be of value in the prevention and detection of crime.”
Parkside Primary School has no CCTV.