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How will UK schools and colleges take advantage of their early lead in IP video adoption over the next few years?

New school buildingThe Blair-led Government unveiled the largest UK schools spending programme for 50 years back in 2004. This unprecedented £55bn investment programme which was called Building Schools for the Future (BSF) led to the construction of more than 70 new schools and the extension and rebuilding of many more. It also triggered a colossal investment in ICT equipment across UK state schools. Annual investment rose from £683m in 1996/7, the year before New Labour came to power, to over £5bn per annum at its peak. Spending on ICT equipment was supported by a specific annual grant which in 2007-8 alone was £113,000 per secondary school and £34,000 per primary school.

Early adopters of IP video

This unprecented upgrade and expansion programme also led to an IT boom in the sector. One bi-product was that schools became early adopters of IP camera technology. You only have to look at many of the earlier installations of Axis network camera systems and Milestone Video Management Software (VMSs) back in 2007 (see example Knowsley College)  to see how new schools, colleges and academies were embracing the next generation of IP-based surveillance ahead of most other sectors.

At this point the primary focus of systems was to reduce vandalism and stamp out bullying as well as safeguarding pupils.  It was also deployed to prevent theft; and help investigate damage to school buildings and incidents on school grounds. The new cameras were used to identify suspects as well as saving time and manpower following the reporting of an incident. Initially cameras were confined to entrances, corridors, stairwells, ICT rooms, outdoor play areas and school perimeters.

Student and staff protection in abuse cases

In our experience we began to see cameras being fitted into classrooms and interview rooms only in the last few years to protect teachers from pupil accusations of abuse. In these incidents it is often the pupil’s word against the teacher’s and sadly, all too often, teachers have been suspended (pending investigation) unnecessarily.

The Government’s own figures, based on a census survey and qualitative study by Local Authority Designated Officers (LADOs) in 2011 (see here), found that 25% of reported cases of abuse were found to be ‘unsubstantiated’ and 19% were proved ‘unfounded’. A total of 2,827 abuse claims were reported to LADO that year. The question is how many more claims would be proved ‘unfounded’, within minutes of the claims being made, if appropriate video infrastructure had been in place and could be called upon by head teachers? Indeed how many of these claims would never reach LADO, thereby saving valuable public resources?

Teacher training

There are other, more positive reasons to bring cameras into the classroom and interview rooms. Classroom-based video systems are increasingly being used as a teacher training tool, enabling teachers to review themselves and receive constructive guidance from teacher trainers. They can spot areas for improvement during review sessions and identify specific children that show signs of struggling to cope with a lesson, topic or subject.

Video used for distant learning and student doctors

More recently still we have seen a fresh wave of investment in schools and college as video cameras begin to be seen as the enabling device for a new breed of more interactive distance learning courses for those fitting their learning around a full or part-time job or for those unable to make it into school for some other reason.

E-learning, as it is now called, is booming globally so that according to Global Industry Analysts the market will be worth £67.5bn by 2015 (ref here). And it is being extended further onto smart phones and tablets as ‘m-learning’ takes hold also. We firmly believe that the following factors are at work which will see the e-learning boom continue long into the future:

  • As people’s lives have become increasingly busy the flexibility offered by  e-learning courses often becomes the only option for people to find the time to do a course or continue further studies
  • Employer training budget constraints continuing which leads to natural use of e-learning to plug the face-to-face training gaps
  • Increasing focus on life-long learning  as people navigate many more types of jobs over elongated careers today
  • Quality, availability and favourable pricing of the enabling technologies – broadband, PCs, mobile devices, video infrastructures

It is also possible to see video as part of schools’ and Further Education institutions’ wider Curriculum Management Systems (CMS) upgrades and Audio-Visual improvement strategies. For example in one ground-breaking deployment at the University of St Andrews Medical School, Axis network cameras and Milestone VMS sits at the heart of a system called MedVu which enables students to gather video evidence  of practical skills learning as they train to become doctors. This evidence is stored and remains accessible securely to the medical students throughout their studies at St Andrews (see ref video).

New opportunities for early adaptors

So will UK schools, colleges and universities, many of which were early adopters of IP video technology, start to review their use of video in view of the massive potential that it now offers them? The change will take time and needs to be well thought out. But the case for using network-based video systems to support teacher training, e-learning and CMS upgrades (and more applications besides) is now firmly on department heads’ and head teachers’ agendas.  The UK education sector is now in a great position to take advantage of its early adoption of IP video systems to support future operational improvements and growth plans.


Published on October 23rd, 2013 by Frank Crouwel

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