It has been announced that body cameras, similar to those used by the Metropolitan Police, will be rolled out for wider usage in schools across the UK after these were trialled in a number of schools. Such a move has instinctively sparked debate regarding the usefulness of such an approach within schools.
Within the Metropolitan Police, body cams are primarily used to protect officers and the public from avoidable harassment or crime that may be targeted at them by removing anonymity and to a certain degree, remove any ambiguity from a given incident: John cannot say he did not say a particular thing when it has quite clearly been recorded on film.
However, schools are not the streets and Teachers are not Police Officers, and neither should they be. Whereas the role of a police officer is to prevent crime from happening and uphold the law, putting them in a direct line of fire with high odds of crimes being committed or coming into contact with abusive behaviour. Therefore it’s a very strange thought to suggest that children, who are mainly under 16, require the same level of intense scrutiny. Have schools really become so unmanageable that it’s necessary to resort to this level of surveillance?
Furthermore, it would suggest to me, that it is indicative of a lack of trust between pupils, teachers and higher management. That would suggest a much larger problem within schools which should not really be resolved through body cams as a first point of call. It begs the question, if there is a trust problem within schools, will body cameras be a productive method of overcoming this, or are they likely to accentuate it?
In contrast to this, I have seen a number of schools that demonstrate and perpetuate a high level of trust for pupils by having unmanned school shops. Here pupils leave the appropriate payment and take what they need. Of course, this situation is not going to work in every school and that level of trust between pupils and school staff has to be built over time. But such institutions are able to establish that by setting the expectation and giving students and staff the freedom to follow it. This actually imbues a mutual respect which both sides can appreciate, rather than feeling criminalised.
Having worked in schools with cameras in use, there are definite pros and cons to the method. It’s possible to have too much reliance on cameras which can create unrealistic expectations of how situations occur, but in reality although not everything runs smoothly or the right action is followed, it does not necessarily mean every misgiving should be picked up or will create further problems. Doing this can make people feel criminalised and watched over. Students and staff may question the level of freedom and respect they are being afforded if they do not feel trusted to make the right choices or act in the right way by themselves.
Further, and more practically, one major flaw with body cams is that they can alter perspective as you are only able to see the situation from one angle which can sometimes give a situation a very strange twist to it. A body cam may perceive someone as aggressively interfering with the wearer’s personal space, however the situation may have been no more than the person shifting at a close angle. Alternatively, the camera cannot take into account the body language of the wearer as it’s out of shot and it’s possible this could influence the actions of the other person heavily.
I have also observed in the past, that some expect methods such as body cams to give a fairly black and white picture of events, and in some cases this is very useful as it’s interesting to see how inaccurate or altered a perception is to those involved in a situation, with the realisation that you’ll never hear the same version of events twice.
However, what body cams can sometimes lead to is a lot more grey areas than you previously had. A situation that seemed fairly clear cut previously, may essentially end up having a lot more questions asked about it than it answered, leading you down a metaphorical rabbit hole.
Despite this, there are some strong points in favour of body cams such as the aforementioned safety aspect, which could ultimately be more useful through changing the location of the camera and including audio. For instance, rather than having the camera located on a specific person, it could be located in a high position in a classroom which would help remove some of the bias and give a more objective perspective of events.
If body cams do become a common sight in schools across England, it seems it would be wise to remember that, even with video evidence, situations are not always all they seem to be and stories don’t end when the book shuts. It would also be important to take into consideration the damage a method like this would do to the level of trust within student-teacher relationships, and how this would need to be offset. We will also need to remember to assess the value of body cams over time; asking ourselves if they are actually helping/deterring any difficult situations, or just creating different ones?
by Leon Hady
He is the former Headteacher of an ‘Outstanding’ school in the UK. He now focuses on online learning having created an online video personalisation portal; helping over 100,000 students pass exams at www.tuitionkit.com and also helping teachers become qualified alongside a nationwide recruitment agency to combat the teacher shortage in the UK www.academics.tuitionkit.com