Easy as A, B, CCTV? Using Semi-Structured Interviews and Focus Groups in a Case Study on Surveillance Technologies in Schools


In 2003, I embarked upon a PhD that aimed to explore the societal impacts of closed-circuit television. England was fast emerging as the closed-circuit television capital of the world following an aggressive, state-funded roll out of closed-circuit television systems. Surprisingly, there wasn't a huge amount of empirical research being conducted on the impact it was having on society, other than a handful of evaluations that focused on whether closed-circuit television ‘worked’ in reducing crime. Schools in particular were demonstrating a huge appetite for closed-circuit television (and other surveillance equipment), and I wanted to know more about the impact this was having on the educational environment. Largely omitted from the agenda at that time was any discussion about the ‘side effects’ of closed-circuit television and how it might impact on social interaction, privacy and civil liberties. My study explored the experiences and understanding of closed-circuit television among pupils and staff in three secondary schools in the Northwest of England. This case explores the research methodology which utilised semi-structured interviews, focus groups and observation. It focuses in particular on the difficulties of securing access to research sites and participants, in this case schools and young people, and the impact that this can have on research findings.

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