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Cameras in Dumcombe Primary School, from Barrie O’Shea

22 November, 2019

Duncombe Primary School in Sussex Way 

• IT has now been over two weeks since I approached Duncombe School and requested the opportunity to speak to the parents regarding the school’s disclosure relating to cameras by the entrance to the washrooms.

I would always rather talk to people face-to-face rather than put my response in writing. However, the school have not given me the opportunity to address the parents’ concerns and my calls to colleagues in the Education Department have not been returned. 

I would like to explain how the school’s attempt to manage challenging behaviour and respond to concerns in these areas resulted in cameras being installed. I hope this can go some way in allaying the distress on the part of the parents and the school community.

Some years ago, we were facing a number of cases of vandalism and bullying in the toilets, one specific case was extremely troubling and involved a child regularly spreading faeces on the toilet walls. We were unsure as to who was doing this but we felt it was imperative to find out in order to offer the child support. 

The leadership team and I discussed our concerns at a governors sub committee meeting and the governors suggested that we use cameras to monitor who was going into the toilets, in order to address any incident effectively.

We were clear that the area covered should only be the entrances and the sink area, there should be no active monitors, the tape should only be viewed if something occurred and only for the period of time when it was thought to have happened. 

Safeguards were also put in place, whereby the school business manager would hold the access code for the recorder, the drive would always be locked if there was no investigation taking place, the ICT technician was the only member of staff able to access the system, when permitted, and he or she should view the recording with either of the deputies.

If some evidence was found, I was then notified and after viewing the evidence I would contact the parent concerned. If necessary the ICT technician could show the parent the recording. 

As can be seen, there were clear procedures in place for the use of these cameras and how they would be monitored and supervised. In addition, the administration team and members of staff were aware of their existence and they were never actively hidden from the parents.

TA’s remember us mentioning the security cameras in assembly and I and other staff members never had any hesitation in frankly stating their purpose and presence. 

There have been signs in the school in relation to cameras around the building. However it is now clear that since the introduction of GDPR in 2018 we should have modified the  signage and notified parents. I apologise for our failure to carry this out.

These cameras were installed by a reputable ICT company and regularly maintained by another. The cameras complied with their privacy standards and neither company questioned the position of the cameras. There was no intention to conceal them. In one case of bullying, a mother requested to see the incident and check the footage.

Two other cases, involving a child starting a fire in the toilet and a child kicking down a door, were resolved by the system. The Metropolitan Police carried out a thorough investigation, and they concluded that there was no evidence of unlawful use and concluded no further action was needed. 

In my 30 years as Headteacher at Duncombe School I strove to make it a very special place, where parents, children and staff were cared for and celebrated well beyond what would be expected from a school.

Our work with the local community and beyond has been a constant reminder of what a socially conscious school can promote and achieve. I hope this is what my time at Duncombe will be remembered for and not for a collective decision made by the school and governors, which through its public mismanagement has been wrongly interpreted.

My goal was only ever to ensure the safety of the school community and this has been an enormously difficult time for my family and myself.

Having said this, if I have lost the support or confidence of any of the parents and children I have cared for and believed in over the past 30 years or my colleagues in Islington, I apologise from the bottom of my heart. However, I can assure you there was never any ill intent in the actions of the school.

The former headteacher of Duncombe Primary School

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