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CCTV in schools: the benefits, drawbacks and laws of school security surveillance
Campuses can be complex environments made up of multiple buildings and mobile classrooms.
In practice, of 24,000+ schools across the UK, no two are the same. And with a rising student population of 8.89 million, together with school property increasingly being made available for community use, maintaining school security is a complex and ever-changing challenge.
CCTV can be an integral part of a holistic security system, but is CCTV really appropriate for use in an education setting? What laws or guidelines would we need to follow? Or are we even allowed to install CCTV in a school?
Amthal brings more than 20 years experience in the security sector, working with education leadership teams on school security solutions. We have worked across many different types of school, including state primary and secondary, nursery, academies, free schools, special schools, pupil referral units together with other types of learning environments.
This blog will cover the advantages of using CCTV in a school. We’ll also look at the potential pitfalls of including CCTV as part of your school security system, and how to tackle them. Finally, we’ll break down the UK laws* and best practices that you need to be aware of when considering CCTV in a learning environment.
So the first and most obvious question is: are you allowed to install CCTV in a school?
Can schools use CCTV?
The short answer is yes. CCTV can play a critical role in keeping staff, students, and visitors safe when they are attending or visiting a school building(s).
A safe school campus can help create a pleasant environment that is conducive to learning, give parents peace-of-mind, and make your school a desirable place to work. All of this can help inform a virtuous cycle of attracting and retaining teaching talent, and making your school an attractive prospect to parents when making their child(ren)’s school placement choices.
The role CCTV plays in school security is about both protecting a school from outsiders, and tackling issues inside of the school community.
Protecting from intrusion
Teachers and pupils alike have the right to work and learn in a safe school environment.
With increasingly large student populations, and school buildings more frequently being made available for community use, it is difficult for teaching or support staff outside of dedicated class representatives to instantly recognise who should and shouldn’t be present on school property, at any given time.
Putting this into context, the student population of the UK has been rising year-on-year since 2009. Currently, across the 24,360 schools in the UK, the average student population is 365. This is across all types of school; the average size of a secondary school is 986, while one academy school in Nottingham has over 3,500 pupils. This is where a school CCTV system could support teaching and support staff to identify possible intruders.
Adding to this complexity, is that school buildings are sometimes made available to the surrounding communities, both to benefit the broader local population and for additional funding. While this is of mutual benefit to both school and local population, it does bring additional complexities when it comes to school security. When community groups regularly use a school’s amenities during evenings and weekends (such as sporting or arts facilities), it can be difficult to determine when someone unfamiliar shouldn’t be there. Again, a CCTV system can help.
The same CCTV system can also deter theft during these quieter times when external guests have access to school property. School facilities such as IT labs or music rooms can house a lot of expensive equipment, so it is helpful for schools to be assured their property is being monitored.
Tackling internal school issues
Even if you are assured that you have protected your school community from external intrusion, there are many issues that occur inside of the community itself.
Broadly, CCTV tends to help with school security in one of two ways: firstly, the cameras act as a visual deterrent. If someone is considering a transgression (such as theft or drug use), a conspicuously-placed CCTV camera can cause them to think again. Secondly, if a crime does occur, the CCTV footage can help resolve issues with visual verification or hold perpetrators to account.
CCTV in a school can be applied in these two ways against the following common issues faced by school management:
- Bullying or interpersonal politics between students – CCTV can help tackle bullying or interpersonal politics between students, whether that’s clearing up a case of ‘he said/she said’, or helping to gather vital evidence if a victim is hesitant to testify against their bully.
- Disruptive behaviour – surveillance footage can back-up a teacher’s testimony when it comes to disruptive behaviour from a student. This can help make disciplinary procedures fairer, and help swiftly re-establish an environment that is conducive to learning.
- Theft – with many students bringing costly mobile phones or other electronics into school, theft of property between students can be an issue. CCTV can help to tackle this sort of crime, both in deterring it, and in resolving thefts with those accountable when they occur. It can also help if school equipment goes missing.
- Smoking and drug use – a tricky aspect of school security can be detecting and tackling smoking and drug use on school property. Visually conspicuous security cameras can deter these behaviours, while CCTV footage can help tackle issues when they arise.
- Vandalism – Graffiti or damage to school property can be costly and disruptive to learning. In the same way as tackling other anti-social behaviours in schools, CCTV cameras can act as a visual deterrent to vandalism, while footage and bring perpetrators to justice.
- Other criminality in schools – the school environment is ever-more complex, including issues such as students carrying knives. This poses a threat to both staff and student safety, so CCTV can help monitor for issues before anything happens, keeping the community safer.
- Truancy – many schools are complex environments made up of multiple buildings, with plenty of quiet corners for students to attempt to miss class. CCTV can help make sure every student is accounted for, safely and securely, acting in student’s best interests.
- Incidents between students and teachers – investigating incidents between staff and students can be tricky, as any complaint must be taken seriously, but testimony from peers and classmates is not always reliable. CCTV footage offers school management a more objective view of any occurrences.
Clearly, CCTV can be extremely useful in tackling many of the most common safety and security issues being faced by those in charge of school environments in the UK. This is especially where there are not enough resources for staff to effectively monitor situations by eye, or where the population is too large for any individual to be familiar with everyone.
But is there anything you should watch out for when considering a new CCTV system to cover school buildings?
Possible drawbacks: considerations when thinking about CCTV in schools
One of the first issues to spring to mind is privacy. In recent years, with the increasing use of CCTV systems across both public and private spaces, the general public is becoming more aware of how security surveillance can impact on personal freedoms.
In this case, it can help to be open and transparent in your communications with your community about how you are using CCTV (including to parents, staff, visitors and students), and to demonstrate that you are using it in line with best practices (see the next section for more on the law for CCTV use in schools [link]).
The cost of CCTV for a school is also a common concern for school management teams, especially in state-funded education institutions. While installing CCTV in a school can be costly, it can help to ensure safety and security for everyone. As the technologies mature, there are also increasingly cost-effective CCTV options available, so our advice is to speak to your specifier to establish a best-value solution.
Another common concern is that CCTV in a school isn’t an absolute guarantee of security. Arguably, just because you are able to deter incidents, monitor live footage or retrieve footage for review, this does not completely assure safety and security. But CCTV is proven to be a great option as part of a holistic and well-managed security system, alongside (for example) a monitored alarm system and access control.
Finally, we can say from experience that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to designing and specifying a CCTV system for a school building or a school campus. Many schools are made up of multiple permanent buildings, mobile classrooms, or a mix of both. Here is where working with an expert can help – specifiers and designers such as Amthal can assess your unique school property and design a CCTV system which is bespoke to your school security needs.
School CCTV laws and best practices in the UK
The Department for Education recommends that a type ’A’ monitored alarm is “essential for school buildings, especially those that are remote from residential areas”. These are monitored by a central station and can facilitate immediate response to any incidents. It is possible to link your CCTV system into an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), giving you visual monitoring as well as the audible alarm activation. This can help you respond to a school security incident in the most appropriate way.
Under the same guidance, it is also listed as “essential” to have clear facial recognition to identify a perpetrator, as well as to use as evidence after any incident. The “main areas” it lists for CCTV coverage in a school are: entrances, IT suites, offices, locations with little natural surveillance and circulation areas (both inside and out). It is recommended that hardware should be vandal resistant and mounted out of reach.
A school CCTV system would also be subject to the Information Commissioner’s Office code of practice, which references the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). We have written extensively about what this means in a corporate setting [link], and much of this applies to school security.
The reason why CCTV footage is subject to GDPR is because as you could personally identify an individual through CCTV footage, then it is classed as Personally Identifiable Information (PII). As such, CCTV footage in schools should be treated like other data under the GDPR – kept securely, with a clear retention policy, and properly purged when appropriate.
A Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) is often the first step in specifying a CCTV system in line with best practices. An individual should be assigned day-to-day responsibility for the CCTV system, and they should ensure that the system is regularly reviewed to check it is still being put to most effective use, within the agreed scope.
Above all, best practices highlight acting with transparency and integrity when it comes to handling personal data – in this case, CCTV footage. Perhaps most simply, a school using CCTV surveillance should have appropriately-worded signage to let occupants (staff and students) as well as visitors know that they are being monitored, and for what purpose (usually in the interest of safety and security).
A proper process for Subject Access Requests (SARs) is another part of the process ensuring the correcting handling and processing of this personal data. When someone requests to see the footage you hold on them, you must respond in a timely manner, supplying the footage in the most appropriate format. Even if someone is casually asking to view footage, the formal process needs to be observed.
The ICO has a wealth of information on using CCTV, and those responsible for school security can reference this online. Working with an expert such as Amthal can grant you additional guidance around best practices for installing a CCTV system in a school, and implement those in a way that suits the unique security requirements of your school premises.
We hope this blog on CCTV systems in schools is useful, and can help you in implementing a new School or Education CCTV system in line with the current regulations and specific considerations for education environments.
Need help with the finer details of implementing a CCTV system within a school? Talk to our expert team of qualified technicians who can help design, install and maintain a CCTV system designed specifically for your school property’s security needs, and help you stick to best practice.
*This is intended as a quick reference guide; bespoke professional and/or legal advice should be sought for specific applications or queries.