By Jason Lewis
Schools have installed CCTV cameras and microphones in classrooms to watch and listen to pupils as young as four.
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.
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 equipment, which includes ceiling-mounted microphones and cameras and a hard drive recorder housed in a secure cabinet, is operating in around 85 primary and secondary schools and colleges.
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.
The firm also promotes its equipment as an educational tool, allowing ‘key lessons and class discussions to be recorded for revision, or for pupils who have missed important material or who may need extra help’.
Schools are required to inform all parents that microphones and cameras are monitoring their children.
Information Commissioner’s Office spokesman
He added: ‘we will issue further guidance to headteachers.’
Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: ‘We strongly object to schools or colleges having free rein to use CCTV and microphones, especially in sensitive areas such as classrooms, changing rooms and toilets.
‘We expect CCTV be used appropriately and not to spy on staff or pupils.’
He said Classwatch had tried to guard against accusations of bringing Big Brother into schools.
‘The system can be turned on and turned off as they wish,’ he said. ‘It is a bit like a video at home. This is not Big Brother. The system is under the control of the teacher.’
Last night, Tory frontbencher Mr Loughton insisted there was no conflict between his political role and part-time job.
He said: ‘I am not the Shadow Minister for Schools, I am the Shadow Minister for Children. I don’t speak on school security.’
A Schools Department spokesman said: ‘We do not prescribe what schools must do to tackle security.’