A thousand schools across the UK are monitoring children’s classroom activities through surveillance software, according to a new report released by privacy advocate group Big Brother Watch.
The paper claims that schools have spent an estimated £2.5 million on monitoring solutions to keep an eye on pupils. The technology, known as ‘Classroom Management Software’, tracks computer usage, including pupil internet activity, browser history, and even keyboard strokes.
The report found that 70% of secondary schools in Britain have installed monitoring systems, across more than 800,000 school-owned devices and near to 1,500 privately-owned devices.
Big Brother Watch calls for educators to find a balance between safeguarding and pupil privacy. ‘Ensuring teachers are able to teach, encourage and inspire rather than spend their lessons monitoring student’s computer screens for signs of inappropriate behaviour is critical.’
The study surveyed 3,259 secondary schools on their use of classroom management tools. The results found that a variety of technologies were being deployed to allow teachers to monitor the screens of an entire class, monitor pupil internet activity, capture screenshots from devices, monitor keyboard strokes, and alert staff to signs of bad or inappropriate behaviour, including extremism.
Alongside classroom management software, Big Brother noted the increased use of CCTV and biometric systems in schools and argued that the trend risks normalising children to surveillance. While often working to adhere to safety policies including the government’s Prevent scheme, which aims to protect students from radicalisation, the privacy group opined that teachers are being placed ‘unwittingly in the position of being Big Brother.’
‘Forcing staff to oversee their pupils every digital move represents a fundamental shift from the traditional method of overseeing pupils by engaging with them from the front of the class,’ the report continued.
A spokesperson for the Association of School and College Leaders commented on the report: ‘Computer monitoring software is used in schools to safeguard the welfare of children and young people by ensuring that they are not exposed to damaging online material.’
There is no ‘secrecy’ regarding the use of classroom monitoring software in schools, he added. ‘Pupils are very much aware of rules about computer use and most schools have policies which are available to parents.’