n 8 February 2017, news broke that two comprehensive schools in England were trialling teachers wearing police-style body cameras as a way of dealing with disruptive students. One of the schools is said to have a history of pupils with behavioural problems. Teachers in the pilot schools are apparently “fed up with low-level background disorder”.
On 2 February 2015, the Department for Education made the following statement:
“We are unapologetic in our stance that giving teachers the powers to properly discipline disruptive pupils and exclude the worst behaved pupils benefits all by deterring poor behaviour and ensuring young people spend their time in school learning”.
– DfE, 2 February 2015
Now, teachers are being given the power to film disruptive pupils and gather evidence that headteachers and Governors Disciplinary Committees could use to exclude them and if necessary bring criminal charges against them. If schooling and education are supposed to be a route to social mobility and tools for humanising society, teachers with body cameras acting as police in classrooms to catch and deal with disruptive pupils is surely a systemic way of worsening social exclusion, if only be shunting more and more young people into the youth justice system at worst, or rendering them failures without hope and even less aspiration.
School students go to school not just to learn how to think, hopefully, or to learn how to reproduce facts to pass tests, but also to learn how to behave. They are in the process of learning social skills and especially self-management skills, including managing their behaviour, managing anger, knowing what behaviours are appropriate in which settings, etc. In other words, learning the skills that make us all fit for living in civil society with a degree of civility and human decency. This necessitates unlearning certain behaviours, wherever and however they may have learnt those in the first place.
Schools have always had to deal with the tendency of students to kick against boundaries, to show off to their peers, to frustrate teachers and to be intolerant of some teachers’ own very poor teaching and people skills. But, the schools that do so best are the ones that make a distinction between the student and what they could be – and could be assisted to become – and the conduct they display.
Some students take responsibility for creating a safe and supportive environment in which teachers and students could teach and learn. Others make it their business to create the environment in which they function best and which makes no demands on them but hinders others’ capacity to teach and to learn.
Some students behave badly but are not bad people. Some behave badly to draw attention away from other needs and learning disabilities they might have. They might, and quite often do, behave badly at home and in their neighbourhoods as well. But, irrespective of their disposition, ALL are required by law to attend school and all are entitled to have their right to an education respected and safeguarded.
Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all rights apply to all children regardless of what they have done. This is reinforced by Article 28 which states that all children have a right to an education.
Children’s right to education cannot be forfeited on account of their poor behaviour, or their non-compliance with codes of conduct or policies relating to school uniform. Part of their educational entitlement is guidance and support in embracing their personal responsibility to act in a manner that helps to make the school a place where all can feel valued and can learn and teach in safety and comfort. It is no less the duty of schools and teachers to provide that guidance and support than to achieve high level examination and test results. In fact, they stand a better chance of achieving those high level results if they invest in ensuring that even the least focused and disciplined of their students are able to take responsibility for their own disciplined learning.
It is highly significant that Tom Ellis, the person who broke the story to the media is a criminal justice researcher at Portsmouth University, not an education researcher, or a child development or social psychology researcher. As Lola Okolosie observed in her brilliant comment piece in the Guardian on 9 February:
‘There is a difference between managing misbehaviour and policing it as this so clearly seeks to do.
And we should not ignore the fact that part, if not much, of the support for officers wearing these body cameras is so that we are more able to hold these public servants, who wield a great deal of power, to account. Do we really need reminding that we are talking about teachers wielding whiteboards and marker pens, not adults allowed to carry batons, gasses and guns?
Of course, as teachers we want children to be accountable for their behaviour. But increasing the spread of surveillance in schools isn’t going to help us do that’.
Ellis’ comments and those of teachers and headteachers the media interviewed displayed a woeful lack of understanding of, or total indifference to, the more or less inevitable outcome of teachers policing the classroom with the aid of these body cameras; they display a seeming indifference, also, to the role school exclusion has played in accelerating social exclusion, especially within African heritage communities and among children in the care system.
But, taking Ellis’ claims about those body cameras at face value, let us examine some of them:
“The teachers will be wearing the cameras very visibly, so there’s no attempt to be covert in any way.
“The idea is that everyone is aware that the camera is there and is being used for a specific incident.
“Where the teacher feels there’s a threat to themselves or to another student, then there will be evidence of that incident.”
BBC Newsbeat commented:
‘It seems that the cameras won’t be rolling constantly, with teachers told to switch them on whenever they want to record something’.
I am Patron, co-founder and former Chair of the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN), a small charity that more or less exclusively provides advocacy and representation to students excluded from school. Students and families are supported in Governors Disciplinary Committee hearings, Independent Review Panel hearings and Special Educational Needs Tribunal hearings. CEN also supports parents and schools in working with students identified as being at risk of exclusion. In terms of events triggering exclusion, one issue we deal with time and again is excluded students complaining about the injustice of being called out by teachers who see or hear them reacting to a provocation, but not the provocation itself, however prolonged the provocation might have been before they reacted. Often, the accused student’s protestations about the unfairness of the teacher’s intervention cause the situation to escalate and the teacher to order the student out of the classroom.
If body worn cameras are not rolling and roving constantly and keeping everyone in the class under surveillance, but are triggered by the teacher to gather evidence from the point at which they intervene, one is likely to see evidence of aggrieved students protesting vehemently on camera about the unfairness of it all and such evidence being used to justify whatever action the teacher felt necessary. Chances are, too, that students’ protestations about being filmed at all, or about being falsely accused would be so disruptive and consume so much time as to render ridiculous any notion of body cameras being a deterrent against disruptive behaviour.
For decades, young people being stopped and searched by the police has been a source of major concern for communities and the subject of any number of Home Office pronouncements. The police, with and without cameras, rather than being a welcome sight and a guarantee of protection in most urban areas are regarded as a threat to young people going about their lawful business. Schools have been notoriously poor in assisting young people to deal with what for some is a daily experience of being stopped and searched. Rather, over the last decade or so, school students have witnessed an exponential rise in the number of police based in schools and performing the role of police in school corridors and playgrounds. Now, their own teachers, people whom they are supposed to be able to trust, talk to, go to for advice and counselling, people who supposedly are acting ‘in loco parentis’, are themselves taking on the role of police in classrooms, complete with camera.
This creeping securitisation of schooling gained pace with police being stationed in schools to the extent that this practice has become normalised.
Persistent violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child have gone unchallenged, year on year, simply because the public have been lured into a reluctance to question the state’s and individual schools’ narrative about behaviour, disruption, non-conformity, insubordination and children’s right to not have their learning disrupted. Indeed, the criteria many parents use for choosing a school is student behaviour and whether the school has cause to exclude students. Regardless of the human rights and civil liberties considerations, it would not be surprising if a high percentage of parents not only approve teachers’ use of body cameras, but encourage the wide spread adoption of their use in schools.
As for teachers’ attitudes to their use, the Times Educational Supplement (TES) surveyed 600 teachers about the body cameras and their attitude to using them.
37.7% of that sample said they would wear them because they would enable the gathering of evidence of student behaviour. The majority, however, 62.3% were not so sure.
Ending her comment piece in the Guardian, Lola Okolosie stated:
‘Children will misbehave. It is an essential part of their nature. Infuriating as it can sometimes be, it is not justification enough for putting them under constant watch. Doing so only implies that our job as teachers is to catch them failing rather than to help them succeed’.
Making the ‘Special Relationship’ more special by aligning schooling policies and practices and getting rid of ‘the bad guys’
Recently, I reviewed two books for the Institute of Race Relations’ journal Race and Class. I found them both deeply disturbing and they should both send alarm bells ringing for us about the creeping securitisation of schooling in the UK.
A Curriculum of Fear
by Nicole Nguyen
Homeland Security in US Public Schools, University of Minnesota Press, 2016, 291pp
By Kathleen Nolan
Discipline in an Urban High School, University of Minnesota Press (2011) 224pp
That review places this latest government-sanctioned approach to conflating criminal justice and education in the wider and more disturbing context of how this plays out in America and how it serves the purposes of the state. Given that Donald Trump has placed building a national culture of fear near the top of his policy agenda and clearly expects institutions of state to position themselves to deliver on that agenda, there are some important lessons here for teachers, students and parents who might be inclined to see teachers wearing body cameras as positive and unproblematic.
“After her extensive expose on the trauma and devastation of 9/11, Ms Day reminded students that there was much work to be done to protect the nation from future attacks. The Department of Homeland Security’s 24,000 employees, Ms Day asserted, diligently worked each day to prevent another September 11. According to Ms Day, those 240,000 employees ‘are the ones that need the intelligence to keep the bad guys out’. And that’s our mission: stronger team, safer nation. Keep the bad guys out”.
Regina Day is a guest speaker addressing students in Milton High School’s Homeland Security programme, as witnessed by Nicole Nguyen, education researcher and assistant professor of social foundations of education at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Nguyen conducted an ethnographic study of Milton High School, the context of its adoption of its Homeland Security programme and the impact of the programme on its students.
Milton High is a struggling school, the sort that in England and Wales Ofsted would have placed in ‘special measures’ and compelled to become an academy, typically run as and by a corporate entity. It caters for predominantly working class and poor black students in an area undergoing rapid change as middle class families move in to take up jobs in an expanding national security industry consequent upon the 9/11 tragedy in 2001. Milton High determined that it would tailor its curriculum and pedagogy to the needs of the national security industry, thereby preparing its students for jobs in that industry. As such, Milton was seeking to improve the quality of education for its students while offering them comprehensive training in national security and keeping them motivated with the prospect of guaranteed jobs in the industry, if they conformed in their conduct, thinking and general orientation to the qualities and standards that would win them security clearance and a job. Since “the promise of a career in the security industry was dependent on a security clearance that requires a ‘clean’ background”, the Homeland Security programme helped to deal with discipline problems and to eliminate behaviours which were associated with poor self-management and academic performance.
Nguyen’s research found that at least 15 other high schools operated Homeland Security programmes, with most of them relying on ‘active partnerships with the US military and national security industry’. At Milton High, top ranking officers from the National Security Agency (NSA) and from industry partners taught students, either as guest speakers, workshop leaders, or learning facilitators on field trips and simulation exercises.
But while all those programmes were designed to take the ‘war on terror’ to ‘the bad guys’, leaving nothing to chance, different categories of students were being prepared for different levels of jobs in the industry: “while all kinds of communities host high school Homeland Security programs, schools often slated poor and working class youth of colour for a military-style national security education while ‘more affluent’ students enjoyed an engineering focused program”. Although Nguyen does not highlight the salient differences in these types of programme, the common curricular focus of which is on preparing students to contribute to the global war on terror, the research indicates that the more affluent students are also the ones with the foundation that renders them suitable for high end jobs in engineering and IT, while the poor and working class students are being prepared for lower level jobs. One might add that they are also the ones who are more likely to return home in body bags.
Nguyen situates the rapid expansion of these Homeland Security programmes within the neo-liberal trend in the US public school system towards privatization, in other words, publicly funded schools run like businesses by private corporations for profit, a process that ‘transforms education from a public good to a capitalist enterprise’. Nguyen gives as an example Chicago, where forty-nine public schools serving ‘poor communities of color’ were shut, but thirty-three publicly funded but privately operated charter schools were opened, charter schools which “often impose selective enrolment policies that ‘largely exclude neighbourhood children’ from poor and working class communities of color…. Neoliberal policies serve the interests of wealthy entrepreneurs and white, middle-class children’”.
Middle class or working class, however, students were treated to a pedagogy that enabled them to define ‘terror’ in a manner that made waging war on terror not just a patriotic duty, but something necessary for one’s own survival. Security and counter terrorism exercises led by serving security personnel from the security industry and from the NSA made terror real and led students to sustain a heightened state of fear and of preparedness. The ‘bag guys’ were not just foreign terrorists and Muslims, but potentially the man next door and the student in the next room.
But, waging war demanded a certain mindset and one that glamorised weapons, militarism, violence and masculinity. Male students had a particular fascination with military hardware, guns especially. They were encouraged in that by staff who validated genderised roles and exhibitions of masculinity that objectified women and projected violence as a necessary component of counter terrorism:
‘…the program encouraged Milton boys – most of whom were black – to perform hypersexual, virile, and aggressive masculinities. These masculinities map onto dominant, racist tropes of the Black male body as inherently violent and hypersexual, thus requiring constant surveillance and policing. These tropes feed the massive criminalisation of young Black men perceived to “constitute a threat ‘at home’”. While the police pursue Black men and boys in city streets and schools, thus circuiting Black male bodies into prisons, the military re-valorizes these de-valorised racialized masculinities, inciting men of color to enlist. The military manages and uses these stereotyped masculinities. Placing bodies of color in military uniforms transforms their “dangerous” status quo into “deserving citizens”‘.
A Curriculum of Fear provides a very graphic account of how a body of students could be groomed, if not brainwashed, to adopt a siege mentality and be preoccupied with external threats from ‘bad guys’ intent on causing injury to innocents, to the nation and to its infrastructure. That malevolent ‘other’ could be your neighbour, but they could also present as other referents:
“Through the social construction of danger, people interpret certain visual cues, like brown skin, low-flying planes, people read as Muslim, and unattended bags in airports, as risky and thus fearsome. Cultural, political, and social ideas about what is, and is not, dangerous structure these fears. Fear, subsequently, is not an individual or interior state of mind but rather a socially constructed, historically contingent, and culturally embedded emotion”.
Nguyen observed that teachers and guest speakers used military or security imagery and artefacts to teach math, geography and other subjects. What her ethnographic account does not present is any reference to a curriculum that was not directly related to Homeland Security and that give students an alternative view of the world. Where did ‘terrorists’ who were not home grown come from? Why do they make the United States their target? What is US foreign policy? Which countries are its allies? Does its association with them put America under threat? Where is the Pentagon? Why is there a preoccupation with Muslims and not with Jews?
One can surmise that those poor and working class black students being trained for jobs in the national security industry would be even more ignorant about their place in America and America’s place in the world at the end of the programme than before they joined it, albeit they would have been more mentally prepared to go and ‘kick arse’, even if they might not have the slightest clue as to where in the world they are going and why.
“…this book critiques how we, as a nation, continue to funnel non-dominant youth into the global war on terror, prioritizing national security over human security. Accordingly, this ethnography troubles the securitized educational pathways we continue to carve out for poor and working-class youth of color”.
Milton saw the Homeland Security programme as a good way of imposing military discipline upon ‘poor and working-class youth of color’ who were otherwise not engaged with learning and could not readily be motivated. The programme was clearly unyielding in telling students what to learn and the mental attitude they should develop to threats, imaginary or real, facing the United States, rather than how to be critical learners and thinkers. Conformity to a terror narrative and to the notion of the dangerous ‘other’ required conformity to dress codes, codes of behaviour and discipline and to national security norms. That conformity was secured not just by staff on the Homeland Security programme, but by police who were part of the staff team at Milton High.
Kathleen Nolan, a lecturer in the teacher preparation program at Princeton University, conducted a study of a school which she called Urban Public High School in an area characterised by poverty and violence. The school operated ‘zero tolerance’ policies that were imposed through the deployment of a highly visible and engaged police presence.
Nolan set out to explore what the impact of that style of school management and discipline maintenance was on students who came from challenging circumstances and who were seeking to engage with learning and with education as a route to better life chances. Nolan found a regime that was excessively punitive and that compounded the disadvantages and oppressions students faced.
Those students were used to a heavy and intrusive police presence in their communities outside school. They were often the target of police attention, leading to interactions that resulted in summonses and court appearances. Outside school, therefore, there were few opportunities for them to receive non-judgemental guidance and informal social education that would enable them to develop effective self-management skills and be better at navigating the challenging environments that were part of their daily living. In school, many were poor performers and not highly motivated learners. The school, however, was responding to a policy decreed by the City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani and retained by Michael Bloomberg that required schools to deal firmly with minor infractions so that they did not lead to greater and lesser manageable ones. ‘Zero tolerance’, even of those routine misdemeanours that are generally acknowledged as adolescent boisterousness and boundary testing.
There appeared to be no clear boundaries, however, between the police use of power and authority and that of teachers. Effectively, the police dealt with discipline matters as law and order issues, handcuffing students and issuing court summonses for even minor infractions. Many teachers were unhappy with the fact that their authority was being usurped by the police and were uneasy about the thought that although they were putatively working in partnership with parents in support of students’ learning and self-development, the school was as much a site of student criminalisation as the streets.
What Nolan calls the ‘culture of control’ led to student appearances in court, often resulting in criminal records, for behaviours which in other schools would be dealt with routinely by teachers. She cites as the most significant finding of her study the number of occasions on which students would be called out for minor infractions, e.g., being late for class, or wearing a hat, and that would lead to them being given a summons to appear in court. In the introduction to Chapter 3, Nolan writes:
“Although a variety of policies and practices were part of the culture of control inside UPHS, the most central was the systematic use of order-maintenance-style policing. This included law-enforcement officials’ patrolling of the hallways, the use of criminal-procedural-level strategies, and the pervasive threats of summonses and arrest, which together led to three essential consequences. First, the heavy policing of students on a daily basis and an official policy of police intervention for minor school infractions led to the criminalization of misbehavior. In fact, frequently the police intervention itself triggered the behavior that was ultimately considered criminal. Second, disciplinary incidents that could have been considered violations of the law but had once been handled internally by educators, such as fighting, came to be defined as serious crimes and were often handled through police intervention, summonses, and the arrests of students. Third, as school discipline merged with an ideology of street policing, the boundaries between once-separate domains – the school, the street, and institutions of the criminal-justice system – became blurred. As David Garland suggests, as crime-control responsibilities move beyond the boundaries of the criminal-justice system, institutions of civil society, such as the urban public school, assume explicit roles in the larger societal project of the penal management of marginalized, low-income youth of color.”
The black body, poor and working class is historically an objectified phenomenon to be controlled, subordinated and subdued, whether through brutality or coercive compliance, or both. What Nguyen and Nolan depict through their respective studies is that the ‘war on terror’ mirrors the ‘war on youth’. It is a war in which black youths are targeted as the ever present threat to law and order and to consensual values which they are presumed not to share. What is more, there is an assumption on the part of those in authority, in schools no less than in the police and in the courtroom, that no decent citizen would consider any method of controlling and containing that ‘threat’ to be excessive, draconian jail sentences or worse even, the phenomenon of ‘strange fruit’ littering southern streets.
So, in the case of Milton High, a criterion of acceptance into the security industry is that young people provide concrete evidence over a sustained period that they have divested themselves of the traits, characteristics, beliefs and attitudes to oppressive authority that are deemed to define black youth as ‘threat’, as ‘other’ and are therefore stable and sanitised enough to be considered capable of joining the club. Their suitability is measured by the extent to which they display a mindset which enables them to identify with the NSA’s sweeping definition of ‘the bad guys’, including members of their own family and peer group. Driven by that mindset, they become as capable as their white counterparts to spray black youths like themselves with bullets as potential ‘bad guys’, in a classic case of the oppressed becoming host to the oppressor and taking on his mantle.
In the case of Nolan’s UPHS, the school is effectively a business and uses the police to control any body and any activity that runs against the interests of the business. They operate to ensure that what is seen as the culture of the street and what passes as normal interactions in the communities from which students come do not manifest on the business premises. ‘Customers’ are therefore expected to come in well attuned to the expectations of the business place, or face the consequences. Those who do not are not just asked to leave, or thrown out, they attract police intervention and invariably court summonses.
The idea that school is a place where children’s learning and development into adulthood is facilitated, where they are assisted in acquiring the values that make us fit for living in civil society, in demanding and safeguarding their own rights and having due regard for the rights of others, in unlearning inappropriate behaviours and taking personal responsibility for creating and sustaining a safe and supportive environment where they and others could learn and teachers could teach…, that idea is not one that fits with the business model of UPHS, or of any of the schools created and managed on the neo-liberal, input and output model. So, rather than schooling and education being a vehicle for social mobility and a route out of social exclusion, especially for the poor, marginalised and dispossessed, it compounds social exclusion and the oppression that is already part of students’ existential reality, thus more likely leading to the abandonment of hope and the death of aspiration. In concrete terms, the school becomes the mouth of the school-to-prison pipeline.
So, what are the implications of all that for schooling in England and Wales?
That ‘pipeline’ which is now a well-established conduit in the USA used to take the form in the UK of student infraction>>> school exclusion>>> criminal justice system. For example, in 2001, when he was chair of the Youth Justice Board, Lord Warner of Brockley said this:
’80 per cent of young offenders of school age are out of school, either through exclusion or refusal to attend;…mainstream schooling is not willing and not able to deal with children with challenging behaviour’.
Successive governments in Britain have been enamoured of the US charter and magnet schools and have tailored the Academy and Free School programme to mirror them. In the last decade, police in the British school system have been performing, routinely, roles not unlike those in the US public school system. For example, a report in the Southend Evening Echo, 18 June 2008, said of the police presence in Shoeburyness High School:
‘Headteachers decide on suspensions and expulsions but the officers can look to make arrests should an incident warrant their intervention. Headteacher Sue Murphy said she would recommend every school have an officer based on site to deal with issues, help educate pupils and make everyone feel safer’.
One suspects that it is just a matter of time before police are assigned to ‘troubled families’ or to parents with children with ‘challenging behaviour’ in much the same way that social workers used to be. Until then, however, many academies are operating ‘zero tolerance’ regimes not unlike UPHS. Teachers wearing police-style body cameras would no doubt be a perfect fit for such academies.
In England and Wales, academies and free schools are excluding at a much higher rate in proportion to the total number of schools. In 2012-13, for example, a total of 18,763 maintained schools excluded 2,700 pupils. Yet, only 2,390 academies excluded 1,930 pupils (a mere 770 less than all maintained schools). When one considers the link that exists between school exclusion and involvement with the criminal justice system which the government itself acknowledges, the role of academies in feeding that school-to-prison pipeline should be the subject of much needed research. What is more, teachers’ use of body cameras as a means of tackling disruptive behaviour would more than likely increase students involvement with the criminal justice system.
At its root, our schooling system is one that extends and perpetuates social exclusion, especially for black and white working class students.
If, as government statistics suggest, Britain is incarcerating more black people relative to our numbers in the overall population than does the USA, the purpose of schooling as judged by the practices of academies and other schools operating in the neo-liberal education marketplace is surely worthy of the most intense scrutiny.
Black school students are up to six times more likely to be excluded from school than their white counterparts. It is more than likely that they would be made more even susceptible to exclusion if teachers are wearing cameras and gathering evidence of classroom disruption or infractions in social areas around the school. It is therefore crucial that parents and carers of African children insist that the government provide evidence of having had due regard to the likely impact of body worn cameras upon those children. Furthermore, it is essential that this is not seen as a matter just for ‘the black community’ but for the entire nation, because the rest of Britain turns a blind eye to the denial of rights and civil liberties to its black citizens at its peril.