Schools have installed CCTV cameras and microphones in classrooms to watch and listen to pupils.
The Big Brother-style surveillance is being marketed as a way to identify pupils disrupting lessons when teachers' backs are turned.
Classwatch, the firm behind the system, says its devices can be set up to record everything that goes on in a classroom 24 hours a day and used to compile
evidence of wrongdoing. The equipment is sold with Crown Prosecution Service-approved evidence bags to store material to be used in court cases.
Data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner has warned the surveillance may be
illegal and demanded to know why primary and secondary schools are using this kind of sophisticated equipment to watch children. Officials said they would be contacting schools to seek proper justification for the equipment's use. A spokesman said
the system raised privacy concerns for teachers, students and their parents. The use of microphones to record conversations is deeply intrusive and we will be seeking further clarification on their use in schools and, if necessary, we will issue
further guidance to headteachers.
Classwatch is set to face further scrutiny over the role of Shadow Children's Minister Tim Loughton, the firm's £30,000-a-year chairman.
The systems cost around £3,000 to install in each
classroom or can be leased for about £50 per classroom per month. The firm says the devices act as impartial witnesses which can provide evidence in disputes and curb bullying and unruly behaviour and protect teachers against false
allegations of abuse – plus provide evidence acceptable in court.
Schools are required to inform all parents that microphones and cameras are monitoring their children.
Schools using CCTV cameras and microphones in classrooms to monitor pupils have been told they should be switched off.
Head teachers have been warned that putting children and teachers under constant surveillance is intrusive to
privacy and a disproportionate way to tackle classroom pranksters.
Data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) issued the blunt assessment after investigating Classwatch, a firm that has set up classroom
surveillance systems in at least 85 schools across the country. classroom cctv schools
In its guidance the ICO said CCTV should be used only to investigate a serious assault and could only be used in exceptional circumstances. Constant filming and sound recording is unlikely to be acceptable unless there is a pressing need – for example, if there is an ongoing problem of assaults or criminal damage.
The ICO ruled that the use of classroom microphones to record
conversations is highly intrusive and unlikely to be justified. If a system comes equipped with a sound-recording facility, then it should be turned off.