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Teachers have started wearing body cams

CRITICISMS: Other teachers say there is a difference between managing misbehaviour and policing it

IN FEBRUARY this year, news broke that two comprehensive schools in England were trialling teachers wearing police-style body cameras as a way of dealing with disruptive students. One of the schools is said to have a history of pupils with behavioural problems.

Teachers in the pilot schools are apparently “fed up with low-level background disorder”.

Discussions among government ministers on how to tackle unruly behaviour in schools have been taking place for a number of years. In February 2015, the Department for Education made the following statement:

“We are unapologetic in our stance that giving teachers the powers to properly discipline disruptive pupils and exclude the worst behaved pupils benefits all by deterring poor behaviour and ensuring young people spend their time in school learning”.

Now, it looks as though teachers may be given the power to film disruptive pupils and gather evidence that head-teachers and governors’ discipline committees could use to exclude them and if necessary bring criminal charges against them.

If schooling and education are supposed to be a route to social mobility and tools for humanising society, teachers with body cameras acting as police in classrooms to catch and deal with disruptive pupils is surely a systemic way of worsening social exclusion, if only to shunt more and more young people into the youth justice system.

ALWAYS WATCHING: Body cameras have been used by police for a number of years – but what will bringing them to schools really do?

At worst, it could render them failures without hope and even less aspiration. School students go to school not just to learn how to think, hopefully, or to learn how to reproduce facts to pass tests, but also to learn how to behave. They are in the process of learning social and self-management skills, including managing their behaviour, managing anger and knowing what behaviours are appropriate in which settings. In other words, they are learning the skills that make us all fit for living in a civil society with a degree of human decency.

Schools have always had to deal with the tendency of students to kick against boundaries, to show off to their peers, to frustrate teachers and to be intolerant of some teachers’ own very poor teaching and people skills. But, the schools that do the best are the ones that make a distinction between the student and what they could be – and could be assisted to become – and the conduct they display.

Some students behave badly, but are not bad people. Some behave badly to draw attention away from other needs and learning disabilities they might have. They might, and quite often do, behave badly at home and in their neighbourhoods as well. But, irrespective of their disposition, all are required by law to attend school and all are entitled to have their right to an education respected and safeguarded.

Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all rights apply to all children regardless of what they have done. This is reinforced by Article 28 which states that all children have a right to an education. A child’s right to education cannot be forfeited on account of their poor behaviour, or their non-compliance with codes of conduct or policies relating to school uniform.

Part of their educational entitlement is guidance and support in embracing their personal responsibility to act in a manner that helps to make the school a place where all can feel valued and can learn and teach in safety and comfort. It
is no less the duty of schools and teachers to provide that guidance and support than to achieve high level examination and test results. In fact, they stand a better chance of achieving those high level results if they invest in ensuring that even the least focused and disciplined of their students are able to take responsibility for their own disciplined learning.

CRITIQUE: Professor Gus John

It is highly significant that Tom Ellis, the person who broke the story to the media, is a criminal justice researcher at Portsmouth University, not an education researcher, nor a child development or social psychology researcher. He said:

“The teachers will be wearing the cameras very visibly, so there’s no attempt to be covert in any way. The idea is that everyone is aware that the camera is there and is being used for a specific incident. Where the teacher feels there’s a threat to themselves or to another student, then there will be evidence of that incident.”

According to Ellis the plan is that the cameras won’t be rolling constantly, with teachers told to “switch them on when- ever they want to record some- thing”.

However, Lola Okolosie, writing for The Guardian about the issue, said:

"There is a difference between managing misbehaviour and policing it as this so clearly seeks to do.

“Of course, as teachers we want children to be accountable for their behaviour. But increasing the spread of surveillance in schools isn’t going to help us do that.”

Ellis’ comments and those of teachers displayed a woeful lack of understanding of, or total indifference to, the more or less inevitable outcome of teachers policing the classroom with the aid of these body cameras.

They also display a seeming indifference to the role school exclusion has played in accelerating social exclusion, especially within African heritage communities and among children in the care system.

See The Voice next week for part two of this feature.

Professor Gus John has been a committed educationalist and learning facilitator since 1965. He is a director of All Africa Advisors LLP, the former director of education and leisure services for Hackney, Chair Co-Founder and Patron of the Communities Empowerment Network.

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