South Yorkshire schools install CCTV in toilets

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CHILDREN are being filmed by CCTV cameras in toilets in schools around Sheffield, The Star can today reveal.

More than 30 cameras are being used in four of the city’s secondary schools - two of which each have 12 cameras in toilet areas.

The investigation - published as part of The Star’s Your Right to Know campaign - found King Ecgbert School in Totley, and Ecclesfield School, each have a dozen cameras installed in school toilets.

Hinde House School, in Shiregreen, has 10 CCTV devices installed in toilets or changing areas, and Eckington School has one.

All four schools defended the use of cameras, claiming they are needed to protect pupils’ safety as well as to combat anti-social behaviour.

But anti-surveillance group Big Brother Watch, which submitted Freedom of Information requests to more than 2,000 schools nationwide, said the findings would ‘come as a shock to many parents’.

“The full extent of school surveillance is far higher than we had expected, and will come as a shock to many,” said Nick Pickles, the group’s director.

“Schools need to come clean about why they are using these cameras and what is happening to the footage.

“Local authorities also need to be doing far more to rein in excessive surveillance in their areas, and ensuring resources are not being diverted from more effective alternatives.”

Ian Peel, assistant director of learning at Sheffield Council, said CCTV cameras are ‘a part of modern life’.

“I would like to reassure all children, young people, and parents that cameras are only placed in communal areas,” he said. “CCTV is a part of modern life these days, and in schools it is about ensuring children enjoy a positive learning environment. I am sure this is something we would all support.”

Lesley Bowes, headteacher at King Ecgbert, said the school has no CCTV in PE changing rooms, and the toilet cameras focused only on the entrance doors.

“They just focus on the door going in to the toilet areas, next to the washbasins,” said Mrs Bowes. “All you can see is the door from the corridor opening, and who has gone in.

“They are not monitored live at all. They are simply viewed on the very few occasions where we’ve maybe had an incident we want to follow up.”

Mrs Bowes said the cameras were installed outside each toilet and the footage is wiped automatically after 36 hours.

“All of our students are aware these cameras are there, and nobody has ever expressed any concern about it,” she added.

Joel Wirth, head at Ecclesfield, said: “We don’t have any CCTV cameras in changing rooms. The cameras in the toilets are entirely focused on the communal wash areas, and there is no facility to oversee what happens in the urinals or cubicles.

“Like every school, our overriding commitment is to the safety of our young people, and we think our CCTV system plays an important role in that. We’re 100 per cent confident the system is safe and secure.”

Mr Wirth said the number of incidents of damage and bullying had reduced since the cameras were installed.

Hinde House School headmaster Chris French did not respond to a request from The Star for a comment.

And Patrick Cumming, headteacher at Eckington School, said a single camera had been put in place to deter graffiti and vandalism outside an expensive new open-plan ‘superloo’.

“Thankfully the school is very safe and free of vandalism,” Mr Cumming said. “We’ve not seen the need for a large CCTV coverage.”

Hillsborough and Brightside MP David Blunkett - former Education Secretary and Home Secretary - said he was unconcerned.

“I have enough faith in the heads of these schools to know they would act properly and in the best interests of their students,” he said.

“I don’t think for a minute the cameras are in cubicles, but in public areas where there must have been problems of anti-social behaviour or damage in the past.”

Nationally, a total of 825 cameras were located in the toilets or changing rooms of 207 schools across England, Scotland and Wales, the figures showed.