education,  Scotland

Free-Use of Personal Cameras Banned from Argyll & Bute Schools

I admit I am having difficulty seeing the objection to not permitting unmoderated taking of photographs in schools, but a synthetic outrage Twitter storm has started in response to nine year old Martha Payne doing so.

In May, Payne – or, more accurately, her father – launched a blog Never Seconds which carried a photo-diary of the dinners being served at her school in the Argyll & Bute Council area, complete with out-of-10 scores. When first read of this, I imagined it to be an excoriating discussion of sub standard fare; with my memories of, as a nine year old, pressing my fork on spam fritters and seeing sort of emulsified fluid ooze forth, or limp and tasting-only-of-vinegar pickled beetroot. (The latter, in particular, traumatized an entire generation of school children against this wonderful veg.)

Instead, despite some critical comments, Payne’s dinners consistently were given high scores; and look appetizing.

Quickly, Never Seconds attracted millions of hits and raising several thousands of pounds for Mary’s Meals (a locally-based charity providing school dinners for children in the Developing World). Admirers included Jamie Oliver and Nick Nairn: with the latter inviting Payne to his cookery school this week.

Now, after an unspecified headline in a national newspaper, the Council has pulled the plug. In Payne’s words:

“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office.

“I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.

“I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos.”

Under the headline “goodbye”, she added: “I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too.

“I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.”

From this, it looks as if the ban does not extend merely to writing about the school dinners. Simply taking photographs on site. As harmless and well-intentioned one photo-project may be and regardless of the co-ordination she presumably has with her local school, I would imagine it would take whole months for a proliferation of similar projects to start: many of which would involve taking photographs of other children, with or without their parents’ consent.

Furthermore, availability of personal cameras is much more common than the beginning of the last decade, nevermind when HP readers were at school, snapping away on our 110mm cameras. Plus, then we could not disseminate the images to a potentially global audience within minutes.

The immediate response of Payne’s parents does not appear to have been to petition the Council. Instead it has been to seek-out interviews with national news outlets.

The popular response has involved supercilious dismissals of the Council’s PR skills with, after some time of furious Googling, no visible addressing of the concerns I raised above.

Mike Russell, the Scottish Education Secretary and local constituency MSP has used the politically sensitive term “daft” to describe the decision, and stated his intention to instruct the Council to overturn the decision; raising the question of just how centralized the current Scottish Government wishes power to be.

Scottish Labour MP, Tom Harris – not the only Labour MP whose advice on social media has been called into question – has endorsed a suggestion to inundate Argyll & Bute Council with spurious Freedom of Information requests. This would be a sure-fire way of clogging-up the system and discouraging official cooperation on this useful public tool.

Nick Nairn has described the local authority’s response as akin to “something out of Communist China”. I would suggest that, regardless of whether or not one disagrees with this decision, such a comparison reflects a lack of any sense of proportion. And stop being a numpty.

As disappointing as this may be for her, a remark from her father was, to me, telling:

As a parent, when you tell a child off or you ask them to stop doing something you need to give them a good reason and a good explanation and I’m not sure that’s been done in this case

Unless Payne possesses exceptionally high-end writing skills as well as Internet skills, I am in little doubt Never Seconds is being directed by one or both of her crofter father and GP mother. Having been told by her parents that this was a worthy endeavor (no-one could argue with her raising money for Mary’s Meals, surely?), she now has discovered that others might be worried about the precedent it could set.

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