The changing face of UK schools: annual fitness tests, CCTV monitoring and fingerprints *
By Daniel Martin
Warning - your child is unfit: Parents of pupils who fail school fitness tests to get letters from health police
Parents of children deemed unfit are to be sent warning letters from schools.
Secondary pupils will be forced to take an annual fitness test.
If they fail, their parents will be told they are at risk of heart disease, brittle bones and obesity. The scheme was outlined yesterday by the Government’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson.
The proposal is expected to be piloted at a small number of schools before being extended across the country. Under the scheme pupils will take so-called ‘bleep’ exercise tests which will see them perform a series of shuttle runs used to measure stamina and fitness.
Sir Liam also revealed ministers were planning to unveil recommendations on the amount of exercise children aged three and four should be doing, because ‘many spend too much time on sedentary activities’.
He acknowledged his plans would be ’shocking’ to many parents, but insisted action was needed.
Parents in England are already sent letters about their children’s weight as part of the National Child Measurement Programme.
They are informed if their children are overweight for their height in their first and last years in primary school.
But the scheme has been heavily criticised for stigmatising children and labelling them as fat at a young age. In one recent example, five-year-old Lucy Davies, from Poole, was told she was at risk of health problems despite weighing just 3st 9lbs and standing 3ft 9 ins tall.
Parents said they feared their children would be bullied and made to feel inadequate by the new fitness tests.
However, Sir Liam said: ‘We might get a few shocks in some parts of the country but I think it’s well worth doing.
‘I was very keen that as part of this it should not just be used for national statistical planning purposes, but there should be a personalised letter going to every parent.’
Margaret Morrissey, founder of the Parents Out Loud pressure group, described the warning letters as ‘absolutely disgusting’.
‘If the Government goes any further they will be completely intrusive in every aspect of the way parents bring up children,’ she added.
‘If they were to suggest that about my child, I would probably sue them for defamation of character for basically calling me a poor parent.
Dylan Sharpe, from campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘While it is important that children are fit and healthy, these proposed annual tests are yet more Government interference and yet more tests for a generation of children who are already constantly under assessment.’
The Department for Children, School and Families said: ‘We think it’s an interesting idea and we will consider it.’
By Graeme Paton
Schoolchildren ‘routinely monitored’ by CCTV
Schoolchildren are as likely to be monitored by CCTV as prisoners or international air travellers, according to research.
Surveillance cameras are now installed in most UK schools, despite little warning given to parents or pupils, it was claimed.
As many as 85 per cent of teachers have reported the use of CCTV in their schools and one-in-10 said cameras had even been placed in toilets.
According to the study, some schools are also using other techniques such as fingerprinting, metal detectors, electronic identity cards, eye scanners and facial recognition systems.
Research funded by Salford University said that schools were increasingly becoming a “hotbed for surveillance practices” in the UK as children were subjected to checks for often mundane reasons such as borrowing a book from a library or paying for lunch.
But Dr Emmeline Taylor, the report’s author, also suggested many schools were collecting CCTV images illegally by failing to inform pupils and visitors that they were being monitored under the Data Protection Act.
She also said the effectiveness of CCTV remained “extremely dubious”.
“Surveillance has burgeoned in UK schools without too much concern or commotion,” she said
“Not only are UK pupils subjected to surveillance rivalling that in airports and prisons, but the law apparently protecting our civil liberties is so impotent that it offers nothing by way of protection.
“It is a common misconception that the processing of all personal data must take place on the basis of consent. The dearth of concrete legislation permits ever more invasive surveillance practices to be introduced in schools.”
As part of the study, carried out as part of a PhD, Dr Taylor examined existing research into the subject of CCTV in schools.
She also surveyed 24 secondaries in one local authority in the north-west of England. Dr Taylor found that 23 of the schools had CCTV.
An earlier survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that 85 per cent of teachers worked in schools with spy cameras.
In most cases, schools had an average of 20 cameras around the school site, with some installed in toilets.
Last year, it emerged that as many as 100 cameras were being used as part of a £60,000-a-year surveillance system at Stockwell Park High in south London.
“The reasons for implementing CCTV in schools are extremely varied, ranging from crime prevention, to tackling bullying, deter smoking, teacher training, prevent truancy or simply to monitor pupil behaviour,” said Dr Taylor.
“The effectiveness of CCTV in preventing and detecting crime remains extremely dubious, and its impact upon more trivial behaviours such as playing truant has not been measured.
Dr Taylor said an estimated 3,500 schools in the UK – around one-in-seven – also used fingerprinting technology, usually in canteens or libraries.
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “There are no grounds for suggesting that schools are being used as ‘testbeds’ for surveillance.