State Surveillance Through a Historic Lens

State Surveillance Through a Historic Lens - As a Teacher I Am Deeply Concerned about the UK Becoming a Police State

Authored by Pete Force-Jones

25th October 2023

Over the weekend it has come to light that a growing number of ordinary staff in our schools are having social media activity closely monitored by government bodies. 

For those at the very top, it seems dedicated school staff may have dared express their genuine dissatisfaction, concerns, or critique of the government's (mis)handling of this sector once too often. Secretive files on ‘suspect’ individuals have been created and stored away somewhere by the DfE.

A newspaper exposé by the Observer has uncovered how in England not only school leaders but also teachers, teaching assistants and librarians are now resorting to SARS requests to the DfE to establish what of their personal social media activity critical of official government policy is being closely scrutinised and filed away by the DfE. 
Why is data being collated and filed of any incidence these school-based professionals dare criticise the (failing) policies of our current government or even the operations of its inspectorate, Ofsted? 

Working in the sector myself, I’d personally find it incredibly hard to claim the most recent regimes have served the state sector, state students or their families all that well- There is so much that needs to be overhauled, and much more investment is needed. I have had cause to speak out, cause to join the picket line and to offer constructive criticism in the hope it may lead to much needed improvements. 

Does this mean I, as a (relatively low-paid) assistant teacher who has cared enough to speak out shouldn’t have dared do so because it might somehow offend those who consider themselves to be in charge?
Should I have just bitten my tongue, kept the pen lid on, and simply sat back to risk witnessing things get progressively worse in our state system?
Sorry DfE, sorry Tory Government, that just isn’t going to happen!

Yet now I find myself wondering if I too should be making a SARS request. What data, if any, are this paranoid weak government and its departments holding on me, and to what purpose?

Upon reading about this situation, I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to the following events I studied at university (and afterwards rather more closely in the area affected).

Shortly after the reunification of Germany, secret files documenting the level of surveillance and supposed threat the paranoid authoritarian regime felt many of their citizens posed to their (ultimately precarious) rule were made available. 

The numbers of the 16 million or so living in the country who found the proof of just how many of them the Stasi (the state police) had been closely tracking, made for shocking reading. It was made open for all to see just how the regime had been meticulously spying on them, detailing any incidence when an individual had been suspected of being even mildly critical of policies, actions or the direction being taken by those in charge.
No one sector was spared, whether you were a teacher, nurse, doctor, author, singer, tram driver or simply a shop assistant, you, your family and your friends were under suspicion.

In this paranoid set-up, no one was allowed to dare criticise anything the state did, and ‘get away with it’. It didn’t matter how damaging you may have felt its impacts would be on ordinary people, to criticise those in charge was not far off as serious a crime as Republikflucht (seeking to escape). To offer critique risked you everything. 

Thank goodness that back in the day, we didn’t live under such an invasive and hostile regime here in the UK. 

Hence, the exposé this weekend does beg the question:
‘What has prompted the UK government of today to seemingly start aping some of the behaviour of the authoritarian regime of East Germany?’

In what is supposed to be a healthy democracy where a government is supposed to serve its people (not the other way round) should I and others in education really need to be requesting to discover if the DfE are holding hidden files on us? 
Are they that scared of the reality seen by those working on the ‘frontline’ exposing their failing agenda?

Perhaps everyone should be asking themselves: 
‘Is it conceivable this government paranoia has spread beyond the DfE?- Where does this end?’

If you have EVER criticised government policy, should you too be thinking of putting in a SARS request?

Are we to expect further evidence to come to light showing that the current Government are so arrogant and so paranoid that they are utterly unwilling to listen to experts and will put under surveillance those who stand to be most affected by their poor policy decisions?
We deserve better.

Pete Force-Jones

Parliamentary Candidate for East Wiltshire.