SCHOOLS have defended their use of CCTV after a study by a civil liberties group revealed they have cameras in toilets and changing rooms.

Big Brother Watch used the Freedom of Information Act to gather data about the use of CCTV in 2,107 schools across the country.

The group claims 207 of those schools have cameras in toilets and changing areas, including the Highcrest Academy and Princes Risborough School.

Big Brother Watch said its findings call the privacy of schoolchildren into serious doubt and called for Government action.

But the south Bucks schools have explicitly stated the cameras are not pointed towards urinals or cubicles, and their ‘secure’ systems were only used to ensure the safety of pupils and staff members.

In a statement, Highcrest said: "The academy operates a CCTV system which is secure and access is strictly restricted with permission required from senior staff. Two staff must be present when recordings are viewed.

"CCTV cameras are not situated in any toilet area but do cover hand wash areas. CCTV reduces any instances of misbehaviour or bullying, and comments from students or parents about the system are almost always positive."

Princes Risborough School said it sought advice from the police and OSTED before it installed the CCTV system.

A statement to the BFP reads: "The purpose of the cameras is for the security and protection of the school and the safety of the children, staff and visitors.

"There are cameras which monitor all access points to the school and these have successfully been used in prosecuting intruders. There are also cameras at key points within the school to monitor corridors and stairwells.

"A small number of cameras are sited in our main toilets and these are static and are explicitly not focused on either urinals or cubicles. Police advice was sought and given over how and where these cameras should be mounted.

"The school constantly reviews its security in light of changing circumstances and technology. There are no plans to extend the cameras though the technology may be updated.

"No camera images are projected onto any screens and the cameras are not monitored. The only time they would be accessed is if there was an incident that needed to be investigated. Such occurrences are extremely rare.

"We know, and Ofsted have confirmed, that our students feel very safe at school. We have very little vandalism, very little graffiti, are smoke free and bullying is very rare.

"Princes Risborough School has an extremely high reputation for its pastoral care and parents and students alike at completely at ease with the present situation."

Big Brother Watch said it was highlighting a sensitive issue concerning not just who is viewing the footage but also that young people are growing up into an environment where surveillance is the norm.

It is calling for the Home Office’s code of practice for CCTV to be extended to all public bodies and a government-commissioned independent review of the use of CCTV in schools.

Director Nick Pickles said: "This research raises serious questions about the privacy of schoolchildren across Britain, with some schools having one camera for every five pupils and hundreds of schools using cameras in toilets and changing rooms.

"The full extent of school surveillance is far higher than we had expected and will come as a shock to many parents.

"Schools need to come clean about why they are using these cameras and what is happening to the footage.

"Local authorities also need to be doing far more to reign in excessive surveillance in their areas and ensuring resources are not being diverted from more effective alternatives.

"The Home Office’s proposed regulation of CCTV will not apply to schools and the new commissioner will have absolutely no powers to do anything. Parents will be right to say that such a woefully weak system is not good enough."

The figures also revealed Cressex Community School has seven cameras for every 15 pupils - but none in locker rooms or toilets.

Headteacher David Hood said this was because its new building was large, modern and is designed to cater for more pupils than are currently at the school.

He added: "As the number of pupils at the school gradually rises, the ratio of cameras to pupils will diminish.

"We use the cameras simply because they make people feel safe, they are not monitored and we only use them if we need to review or investigate an allegation."