Film and photography at the school Christmas play

Robin Jacobs, a barrister specialising in education law at Sinclairslaw, gives his advice for developing a lawful approach to filming and photography at school plays

Once upon a time, documenting the Christmas production was a simple affair that involved a few clicks on a camera, a trip to the local Super Snaps, completion of a new page in the family photo album and no eyebrows raised. However, with the advent of digital photography, social media, increased safeguarding concerns and Data Protection Law, the picture today is very different.

As a school, you are in a difficult position. Some parents will have concerns about the prospect of strangers acquiring images of their children while others will feel they have a right to document a key milestone and, therefore, to snap and film away to their heart’s content. Keeping everyone happy is pretty much impossible. However, the tips below should help you develop a credible approach.

1. Challenge legal myths

Parents with concerns about cameras may insist that allowing others to record the Christmas play without their and everyone else’s consent breaches Data Protection legislation. This is not so. The Information Commissioner’s Office has advised that, so long as images are taken for personal use, they will not engage (far less breach) information law and that no consent is required. Other than in exceptional circumstances, individual parents do not, therefore, have the right of veto.

Equally, parents who wish to photograph/film may insist they have a right to do so, especially where they only intend to record their own child. Again, this is not accurate. As the owner or occupier of the property, you have the right (within reason) to impose whatever conditions of entry you see fit, including restrictions or prohibition on the use of filming and photography.

As the owner or occupier of the property, you have the right (within reason) to impose whatever conditions of entry you see fit, including restrictions or prohibition on the use of filming and photography

2. Lay down the rules

Prior to the event, consider sending a letter out to parents setting out what they can and cannot do.

It is for you to decide the rules, but the following are usually good practice; photographs and video recordings are permitted strictly only for personal use; no cameras are permitted in the changing rooms or backstage; parents should not take shots of any child other than their own (except incidentally as part of a group shot) without the prior agreement of that child’s parents; and flash photography is prohibited, as is persistent standing.

3. Manage the event 

Careful event management will often dispel any concerns linked to photography and filming. For example, by allowing only family/close friends to attend, insisting that attendees are named in advance and making the event all-ticket, it will usually be possible to ensure that only trusted people are in a position to make images.

Also, ensure that all aspects of the play (most notably costumes) are entirely appropriate; prevent access to the children whilst they are changing; and avoid publishing any details (such as a cast list) that might enable individual children to be identified.

4. Identify vulnerable pupils

Be sensitive to any security concerns that pertain to particular pupils. For example, where a child is adopted or fostered, or where he/she and a parent are in hiding from a violent former partner, deliberate or inadvertent disclosure of the child’s new family or location may be a real concern, especially given the ease with which images are shared and accessed on social media.

Having identified such children, consider whether there are any strategies that can be taken to protect their identity (such as placing them wholly or mainly out of sight, or dressing them up so elaborately that they become unrecognisable) or whether it is necessary to ban cameras altogether this time around. Work with the child’s parent or guardian to reach a satisfactory solution.

5. Consider filming it yourself

One approach is to make an ‘official’ film and take photographs of the play (either yourself or via an outside professional) and to make this available to parents after the event. This may reduce any need parents feel to make images of their own and will ensure that the pictures remain appropriate. This can give rise to complications though, especially if the results are not very good.

6. Identify non-safeguarding issues

Whilst safeguarding will often be the paramount concern, cameras (especially flash photography) give rise to other issues. When setting rules for the event, be mindful of the comfort and concentration of everyone involved, especially with conditions such as epilepsy or migraine-proneness. Also remember that filming of certain plays or songs may breach copyright.

Final thought

There is rarely a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approach when it comes to cameras at Christmas plays. The rules you adopt will likely depend on your own views and on the circumstances of your particular school. The most important thing is to have a position on photography/filming and to make parents aware of it. Well in advance of the event, parents should know whether they can make films and take photographs; if so, whether any conditions apply and what they may do with them afterwards.


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