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EDUCATION

Not only is there insufficient evidence to justify their use, body cameras may actually escalate situations in the classroom

WEST VALLEY CITY, UT - MARCH 2: West Valley City patrol officer Gatrell starts a body camera recording by pressing a button on his chest before he takes a theft report from a construction worker with his newly-issued body camera attached to the side of a pair of glasses on March 2, 2015 in West Valley City, Utah. West Valley City Police Department has issued 190 Taser Axon Flex body cameras for all it's sworn officers to wear starting today.  (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

Police-style, body-worn cameras are being piloted by teachers in two schools in England to stop pupil disruption. However, recent research raises concerns about such a scheme and its potential impact on both teachers and pupils.

One of the big concerns is how the body cameras are used. During the pilots of body cameras in English schools, the cameras are not rolling constantly, with teachers told to switch them on whenever they want to record something. Based on research from RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge this is not a good idea. Evidence from ten randomised trials looking at the effectiveness of body-worn cameras in UK and U.S. police forces suggests that turning cameras on and off is associated with escalating situations in terms of use of force by officers on the street during arrest.

How would schools justify such a cost?

The reasons behind this escalation in use of force could be that the camera is turned on too late, with the camera filming adding to an already tense and heated encounter. Similarly, evidence about what happened in the lead-up to the situation is lost.

The same studies found that the rate of assaults against police officers was actually higher when cameras were used. This could be due to improvements in reporting by police officers, but could also be because assaults actually increased. Unfortunately, we just don’t know at the moment, which is why we need further research and evidence looking at this area in more detail.

It must be noted that our studies also showed a dramatic drop in complaints against police officers using body-worn cameras – around a 90 per cent decrease overall. This drop in complaints probably justifies the cost of the body camera roll-out in police forces, as every police complaint has a cost associated with it. But, how would schools justify such a cost? Where would the savings come from?

Other research seems to suggest that body cameras are not needed in schools. The argument for using body cameras is to save time controlling pupil behaviour. International evidence from the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) suggests both administrative tasks and pupil behaviour do impact teaching time, but teachers in England still spend around 80 per cent of class time actually teaching, a figure that is comparable with Sweden. Is the problem of controlling pupil behaviour big enough to justify the cost and use of body cameras?

Body cameras may actually escalate situations in the classroom

We have to accept that pupil behaviour will be worse in some schools than others. A strong argument can be made to employ means other than the use of body cameras in the classroom. This includes deploying teaching assistants and mentoring to develop a positive working relationship with challenging pupils and classroom management training for teachers to help them handle challenging pupil behaviour through relationship building. A large review of research on school exclusion during the past 20 years, which is about to be published with colleagues from the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, shows that such methods can reduce exclusions. Such methods seem more promising than a technological fix that does not help to build relationships.

A final concern is which pupils the cameras might be used on. Department for Education statistics and wider literature tell us that it is typically pupils from deprived backgrounds, or who have special educational needs, or are from specific ethnic and cultural minorities who face the harshest discipline in schools (i.e. exclusions). Why would cameras be different?

There is insufficient evidence to support the roll-out of body cameras in English classrooms. The research with UK police forces indicates that how teachers use body cameras during the pilots could be counter-productive and may actually escalate situations in the classroom. Further, research suggests that other methods at controlling challenging pupils will likely be more effective than body cameras. At the moment, it seems that putting body cameras on teachers is not the answer to challenging classrooms.

Dr Alex Sutherland is a research leader at RAND Europe. He is involved in studies looking at the effectiveness of body cameras in UK and US police forces and a forthcoming systematic review for the Campbell Collaboration on interventions to reduce school exclusion.

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