Headteacher reports artist mother to police for pictures of her son

I just received this email from an artist, who was reported to the police by her son’s headteacher, because of photos of the artist’s son on her website. This truly extraordinary story indicates the extent to which schools are seeking to regulate photos of children – which stretches to censoring photos in their parents’ artwork…

‘My son’s headteacher called the police in 2010 to my son’s primary school, after seeing pictures of my son on my website. I had had a performance at the Courtauld Institute and my son’s teacher missed it so I gave her a video of myself and my son. My son’s class viewed it, I got good feedback from the teacher, and I heard nothing else about it until almost a year later. The headteacher had a look at my video and then started looking at my website. It was never made clear why she started searching on my website; she said she had concerns and had a right to act on them.

She told me that she was alarmed at a picture on my site of him in the bathtub, all typical Sally Man/mother-photography, etc. type work. Actually he had a Halloween mask on, and while there were other photos of him on my site, and you could assume it was him, his face was unidentifiable and she didn’t know for sure. After consulting the school governor she rang the police – who said nothing was wrong with the images on my site (ie, no porn) – but they then had an obligation to call social services.

In the end, social services closed the case as there was nothing to go on but they leaned on me to remove the picture in the bathtub from my website, which I did and then ended up redesigning the whole thing. It also changed my artistic practice.

I think the bigger issue is that schools have a huge say in what kind of parenting you should do, and can or will bully you into conforming, if you are not of a certain class or sensibility.

My complaints to the school governors fell on deaf ears – actually, I was the one who got told off and reprimanded about challenging the headteacher’s right to decide what should and shouldn’t be on my website. They argued that if any staff had a concern about the safety of a child, it was within their duty to take action.’

Here, as in other cases, the regulation of photography seems to become a bottom line for a headteacher, and the basis of her authority within the school. ‘Child protection’ rules seem to inspire them more than maths or English results.

It is a pernicious trend indeed when such suspicious regulation becomes the basis of educational authority.