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Henham and Ugley Primary School parents defend head who contacted police over 4-year-old nursery pupil's smartwatch

Parents have defended a headteacher who angered a couple by contacting police about their four-year-old son wearing a smartwatch to school that takes photos and videos.

Little Ethan Seaman was told by Kim Hall, head of Henham and Ugley Primary School, to remove the £32 VTech watch – a gift from his grandmother, Elaine Seaman – at his Thursday morning session.

She then called police to report a recording device in the classroom, saying she was following local education authority safeguarding policy – a stance supported by other parents.

Ethan Seaman, 4, with his nana Elaine Seaman and the VTech smartwatch she bought him. Pic: Vikki Lince (47521594)
Ethan Seaman, 4, with his nana Elaine Seaman and the VTech smartwatch she bought him. Pic: Vikki Lince (47521594)

The first Ethan’s parents, Rai and Subreen, heard of the matter was when they went to collect him at lunchtime and were called into the head’s office. They described her response as “absolutely ludicrous”.

They said there was no mention in school policy documents about use of recording devices and the only reference to phoning police was if there was “risk of immediate harm” to a child.

Mr Seaman told the Indie: “To me it feels like they're hiding behind school policy. It's a recording device – it was the first time he'd worn it to school – but it's a toy watch and the school is twisting the reality to justify their actions.

“I asked the head if she’d checked the watch for any images and she said ‘no’. But how are you protecting students by then giving the device back to the parents without even checking what’s on it?

“Are they seriously expecting a four-year-old to connect to the internet and then send pictures? It’s a waste of police time and public funds, and shows a lack of judgement.

"She told us she had followed her duty as head to highlight this because it was a recording device in a nursery situation and they have to take care of all the kids, but I still don't understand why you would call the police without even looking at the watch to see if any pictures had been taken."

Mrs Seaman said her son's watch had not captured any images while he was in class.

The VTech KidiZoom Smartwatch DX2 features games, can take pictures and videos, and helps teach children how to tell the time.
The VTech KidiZoom Smartwatch DX2 features games, can take pictures and videos, and helps teach children how to tell the time.

“The head didn’t call us, she waited until we came to pick Ethan up – where was the urgency? If this was so important she should have called us.

"It is the persecution of parents and children which is unacceptable and why we felt we had to say something. The school should be held accountable for their actions, they should be using their initiative and common sense.

"It is unbelievable and we want an apology from the head to Ethan, for the school to update its safeguarding policy and to communicate it effectively to parents and for the head to undertake training on safeguarding and how to conduct an investigation."

The family, who live in Elsenham, said they understood concerns about how recording devices could be used in a harmful way to procure images of children in a nursery, but the insinuation that they were involved in sinister activity was “dangerous”.

Mrs Seaman said: “The insinuation that my husband and I are paedophiles... it’s just dangerous and creates a lynch-mob mentality among parents.”

The couple immediately pulled Ethan out of the nursery. They distributed leaflets to parents outside school the next day, highlighting the matter and how the school had dealt with it, warning them not to send their children into school wearing similar smartwatches – a move which drew criticism on social media from other parents.

A spokeswoman for Essex Police said: “I can confirm that it was reported to us as a safeguarding concern, but it’s not a policing matter so we haven’t recorded it as a crime and there won’t be any further action from our end.”

Mrs Hall, who joined Henham and Ugley as head in 2017, issued a statement but declined to comment when pressed about the school’s handling of the situation and why it involved police.

She said: “A recording device was found in active mode in a classroom. All staff at Henham and Ugley Primary and Nursery School take the safeguarding of pupils and staff extremely seriously.

“All safeguarding concerns are dealt with following ECC (Essex County Council) guidelines, policies and procedures.”

A spokesperson for the county council said: “ECC provides very clear safeguarding guidance, within the county model EYS (Early Years Setting) policy, that cameras and personal recording devices are not to be used outside or taken into nurseries or schools. Images and film of a very sensitive nature could be recorded.

"Essex County Council schools take safeguarding very seriously and are vigilant around potential safeguarding concerns, linking with other agencies as required.

“This is now a matter for the headteacher and governors of the school to resolve as they see fit.”

The Seamans were due to have a Zoom meeting with vice-chair of governors Nigel Hogg to discuss the issue further.

The VTech KidiZoom Smartwatch DX2 was bought on Amazon by Ethan’s grandmother and is suitable for children aged four and over. It features games, can take pictures and helps teach children how to tell the time.

What other parents said...

"A 4-year-old wearing a watch that has recording function on it has potentially greater consequences. So by calling the police and getting a crime ref number she is ensuring that should later down the line it become something more than a child just wearing a watch to school, the school won’t be at fault.

"If my child was at that school I would be truly grateful to have a headteacher taking the safety of ALL children so seriously. If the parents have nothing to hide, why would you be worried about the police knowing about it? She should be being praised for doing the right thing."

"The device should never have been in school in the first place!! The rules are very clear. I hold my son’s headteacher in the highest regard and she does not deserve this."

"It’s not like she called 999 on them!"

"These kind of watches are banned. The head had to do what she had to do to protect the other children. I can’t believe the parents would stoop so low as to go to the papers. Completely outrageous. The leafleting outside school was bad enough! We are VERY lucky to have such a fantastic school."

"From my understanding of safeguarding, the device should have been examined first (no consent needed as it’s a safeguarding concern). If nothing was found parents should have been informed and told not to send in again. No need to blow it up like it was."

"What an absolute jobsworth, by all means bring it up with the parents but reporting it to the police, wow!"

"Bless him, he probably wanted to be like Mummy or Daddy by wearing one, or maybe he’s learning how to tell the time."

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