Venturers’ Academy Row Over Two-Way Observation Mirrors

A public row has broken out in the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (Send) community over the use of two-way mirrors in a specialist setting in Bristol.

Venturers’ Academy updated their Twitter feed at the weekend regarding their recently opened new build school.

It said: ‘We are so proud of our new build at Hareclive Road. The Bradbury Centre enables observations to take place behind oneway mirrors leading to sharing of best practice and excellent professional development for colleagues.’

venturers academy bristol two way mirror row
We have not linked directly to the Tweet because the children are identifiable in the pictures

But the Tweet caused upset and concern amongst parents, disability advocates and education professionals. Many were concerned regarding the ethics behind the use of two-way mirrors. Others were concerned that the school had posted large images of the children being observed which made them identifiable. Some questioned the nature of the research being carried out by those observing and how it would impact the autistic community.

Amongst more than 100 comments, a retired primary school teacher added: ‘I hope that parents are going to complain. I would – a simply dreadful idea.’

A Senior Lecturer and PhD student specialising in psychology and early childhood expressed concern, posting: ‘Who signed off on this? The ethics of this are dire for pupils and staff. I hope parents voice this.’

A Senior Lecturer in Early Years at University of Northampton posted that they were struggling with the ethics surrounding the situation. They wrote: ‘So many ethical issues with this. Please consider the children’s viewpoint. How are they going to feel about this? Not just now but in the future?’

Some posters were concerned about the lack of privacy surrounding the children, whose faces were clearly visible and identifiable in the photograph. A disability advocate posted: ‘Did the kids in the picture consent to having themselves on the internet like this? Could you have maybe blurred their faces? How the fck do you sleep at night? This is gross and you all need retraining.’

Venturers’ Academy is an autism specialist provision in Bristol, which is part of the multi-academy Venturers Trust. Venturers Trust in turn is jointly sponsored by the Society of Merchant Venturers and Bristol University.

The Society of Merchant Venturers ReTweeted the original post saying: ‘We’re proud to join with all those working towards making #Bristol an inclusive city where there are no barriers to equality. #Justice #Inclusion #Diversity #Equality’

But they were quickly pulled up by a Send parent asking: ‘Is this inclusive/equality/diversity?????? No, it’s not’

The multi-academy Venturers Trust account focused on the difference it would make to those working for the multi-academy trust, Tweeting: ‘So proud of this facility. It will make such a difference for colleagues who work with #SEND children’

A press release from The Society of Merchant Venturers dated April 29 2021, stated that the new Bradbury Centre would offer ‘unprecedented research and training opportunities for teachers and others working with vulnerable, complex and disadvantaged students.’

Principal of Venturers’ Academy and Executive Lead for Primary and Specialist Schools at Venturers Trust, Trystan Williams continued discussing the two-way mirror rooms, described as ‘soundproofed observation galleries’ in the press release saying: “The Bradbury Centre, which has been funded by a generous charitable donation, will play a significant role in the Venturers Trust Institute of Education, which we intend to turn into a centre of excellence for sharing good practice.”

An email from Trystan Williams sent to parents this week informing them of the weekend Twitter row was shared with us by a parent with a child at the school.

It said: ‘You might have seen that Venturers’ Academy was the subject of some unkind and untrue comments on social media over the weekend after a tweet celebrating the observation facility at our Bradbury Centre.

‘There were accusations of ‘spying’ on children and using them as ‘guinea pigs’. One even suggested we would be posting pictures on the internet, which you know we would never do without your consent.

Screen shot of photograph posted by Venturers’ Academy with Tweet

‘The Bradbury Centre has been set up to help improve the skills and expertise of teachers and support staff at our academy for the benefit of your children. Because Venturers’ Academy already has a strong reputation for its work with children with autism and other special educational needs and disabilities, we have also been asked to support the training of staff in other schools, both mainstream and special, in our region.

‘While we are happy and proud to provide this professional development, we will not do anything that will be harmful or upsetting to any of our students in any way. The Bradbury Centre has the welfare of children at its top priority and operates to the highest professional and ethical standards.

Screenshot of Society of Merchant Venturers Press Release discussing ‘unprecedented research’ opportunities – text in article

‘The observation facility, which is similar to provisions in universities and other special schools around the country, enables assessment of educational and therapeutic approaches in real time but at a distance. As parents and carers, you will understand that it is much better for the children that there are not unfamiliar adults in the classroom.

‘If you have any concerns about this provision, or any other aspect of your child’s education and care at Venturers’ Academy, we will be happy to arrange a time to discuss them with you.’

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