‘Whether the elves are watching or not’. Listening to teachers’ experiences regarding surveillance technologies in schools.
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Surveillance technologies have become a normalised aspect of the workplace, and daily life, in England. This is particularly true in schools, where CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) is commonplace, and an audit culture well established. This study explores how teachers feel the atmosphere and culture of a school is influenced by technologized surveillance tools. Three interrelated questions were explored; what effect do surveillance technologies in schools have upon relationships between colleagues and students? What is lost by the application of such surveillance technologies in schools? How can Ivan Illich’s work show us a way to respond? To explore these questions, 13 teachers completed a research diary. Participants recorded their thoughts and experiences regarding technologized surveillance and 8 were then interviewed to explore these issues in greater depth. Analysis of the diaries and interviews demonstrated a high degree of unease, fear and stress amongst the participants generated by surveillance technologies, or by the perception of their use, in the workplace. The responses suggested that surveillance technologies in schools have a distinctly negative impact upon teachers. Five broad areas emerged; questions of privacy, the body and how people are made to feel physically, how we construct shared space and time, questions around a sense of paranoia, and examples of resistance. Clear boundaries between work and home, a feeling of professional autonomy, and a sense of security amongst the participants were all significantly weakened by the application of surveillance technologies in schools. New definition of surveillance is offered, which focusses on the potential to collect, create and retain information on an individual or group, using technical or systematics means, and regarding which that individual or group has no clear right of access or challenge. It is recommended that the placement and use of surveillant technologies in schools be conducted with a greater emphasis on informed consent, proportionality, and a meaningful right of reply. This study also contributes to Illich scholarship by applying his theoretical tools to a contemporary issue and through a wider engagement with his writings. A range of Illich’s work was utilised including published books, conference speeches and interview transcripts. Several essays which have yet to receive formal publication were shared with me by Illich’s colleagues. Future research could build upon this by applying Illich’s theoretical tools to other contemporary questions and engaging with a wider range of his publications. Illich’s work on silence needs to be explored in greater detail and could be used to develop responses to surveillance practices. This study focussed on the experience of classroom teachers. Future research is needed to explore the experience of surveillance practices amongst students and senior management.
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