School classrooms should be fitted with CCTV to protect children from abuse, inquiry told

Parents have called for the installation of video cameras in school classrooms. Photo: Paul Jeffers
Parents have called for the installation of video cameras in school classrooms. Photo: Paul Jeffers

School classrooms should be fitted with video cameras that can provide a live broadcast to parents, a NSW parliamentary inquiry has been told.

"This would both ensure that children of all abilities are being treated appropriately but also prevent videos being edited or doctored by school staff," according to the submission to the inquiry into students with a disability or special needs in NSW schools.

The CCTV footage could also be used to improve classroom teaching and management, but the measure is principally designed to ensure the safety of children.

"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 parents, whose names have been suppressed, said.

"[T]here are dog grooming services 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."

The submission by the parents of a child with multiple disabilities said people in hospital cafeterias, banks, school foyers and "pets at dog grooming parlours have a greater right to protection from abuse and neglect than highly vulnerable children".

"[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," the parents said.

"We believe the safety of our children is equally if not more important than that of peoples' money, house and pets."

The submission contains serious allegations of abuse suffered by their son by a number of teachers and teachers' aids including pushing him with boxing shields and preventing him from accessing the toilet or eating sandwiches.

"In short, certain staff at the school succeeded in turning our son into a monster and when aggression towards others failed to secure peace from abuse and neglect, he resorted to other survival instincts such as flight and freezing," the parents said.

The inquiry, which is scheduled to hold its next hearing in Sydney on June 23, has received a number of submissions containing similar allegations.

The parents were also critical of the NSW Education Department and its Employee Performance and Conduct unit, which handles complaints against staff. "We feel that at best, they set the tone of mediocrity and disdain about what was happening to our child and in fact behaved disgracefully," they said.

But the use of CCTV in classrooms is not supported by Maurie Mulheron, the president of the NSW Teachers Federation.

"It is absurd to suggest that video cameras should be installed in classrooms," he said. "This approach breaches basic privacy principles of all involved, including other staff and all the students in the classroom."

Mr Mulheron said he was not aware of any concerns regarding the Education Department's complaints unit. "My experience as a principal is that EPAC undertakes exhaustive investigations of any allegations against staff members," he said.

A survey of teachers in Britain found that one in 12 classrooms have CCTV. It is now thought that 90 per cent of schools have CCTV in England, although many of these cameras are in the playground and corridors, according to David Roy, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle's School of Education.

"With increased allegations of abuse of pupils by teachers, pupils by other pupils and of abuse of teachers by pupils, CCTV in classrooms could provide the evidence to support or dismiss accusations," Mr Roy said. "CCTV would be a protection for teachers and pupils alike."

Mr Roy said filming in classrooms could also be used to support teaching standards, but he added: "It should not be used in a way that is professionally disrespectful, where judgments are made without context."

Mr Roy agreed there were privacy concerns with the measure "but child protection should come before work protection".

He said children with disabilities were three times more likely to be abused, while non-verbal children were 10 times more likely to be assaulted or abused.

"A good teacher should have no fear of being filmed," Mr Roy said.

Emmeline Taylor, a criminologist at the University of Surrey and author of Surveillance Schools: Security, Discipline and Control in Contemporary Education, said the introduction of surveillance cameras in playgrounds, school foyers and classrooms provided a false sense of security.

"While school-based CCTV might provide a deterrent to deliberate misconduct in locations where it is installed, evidence suggests that cameras often displace deliberate wrongdoing to areas that are not covered," she said.

Dr Taylor said CCTV only captured misdemeanours that were performed in the field of vision of the camera.

"If there are inadequacies in recruitment processes, training and the supervision of workplace behaviour, CCTV will not be able to address these issues," she said. 

An Education Department spokesman said in a statement that public schools in NSW generally use CCTV to monitor for security as well as specific areas in schools such as sick bays and student time-out rooms, but the department must abide by workplace surveillance laws.

The spokesman said the department was "aware" of the concerns of parents expressed in submissions to the inquiry.

"The department also works with the NSW Ombudsman to review practice and to explore improved ways of responding to parental concerns," he said. "The safety of students particularly students with disability is of paramount importance to the department."