Teacher bodycams won’t make students behave
Teachers in two English schools are to be equipped with body cameras in a bid to improve classroom behaviour. The trial has been criticised by education experts across the spectrum. Tom Bennett, the government’s ‘school behaviour tsar’, has called it ‘an expensive and complex solution’ to the problem of school discipline. Niamh Sweeney, a sixth-form teacher from Cambridge, also criticised the move, stating that she was employed ‘as a teacher, not a police officer’.
Most critics argue that bodycams demonise pupils and infringe upon their right to privacy. This is true to a degree. Surely parents won’t be too happy about their children being filmed throughout the day. Furthermore, this scheme suggests that children are potential problems waiting to happen. But while we can all agree that monitoring children in this way is creepy, wrong and counterproductive, let’s not pretend that school discipline is not an issue.
When I was at school, there was an unspoken respect for the authority of staff. You simply did not cross your teachers, except in rare, poorly judged circumstances. Those who did regretted it, for the retribution was always swift. But that is not what happens today.
This isn’t to suggest we should bring back the cane, or turn a blind eye when a teacher gives a child a clip ’round the ear. But it is true that the problem of school discipline stems from the undermining of teachers’ authority. Teachers should hold absolute authority over school children. But various trends in education and society – from a hyper concern about safeguarding to the growth of ‘student voice’ initiatives – has made teachers less able to assert themselves. This is not to say that teachers should be tyrants, but they need freedom and trust to get on with the job of educating children.
The problem with teacher bodycams isn’t just that they invade children’s privacy, they also undermine teachers’ authority, and the relationship between pupils and staff that underpins that authority. Important bonds forged between pupils and staff, of respect and trust, cannot flourish under surveillance. At this early stage, the scheme remains very much in the trial stage. Let’s hope for the sake of teachers and pupils that it stays that way.
Benedict Spence is a writer based in London.
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