Should Smart Phones be Banned in Schools?

Posted in : Cassidy's Comments on 5 October 2018
Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL
Issues covered:

Rory Smith, writing for CNN on July 31, 2018 explores the implications of a new law in France which decrees that children aged between three and fifteen will not be able to use their mobile phones during school hours. The ruling affects both students in primary and middle schools and means that they will have to leave their phones at home or switch them off. From now on they will only be able to use them in cases of emergency.

Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said the law aims to help children focus on lessons, to socialise and to reduce social media use. It is also designed to fight online bullying and prevent thefts or violence in school. Teachers point out that in reality, the ban has already existed in schools.

"I don't know a single teacher in this country that allows the use of phones in class” was a common reaction. A law approved in 2010 already banned the use of smart phones "during all teaching activity."

This new law, however, is more detailed and makes exceptions for disabled students, during extracurricular activities and for "pedagogical use."

In reality restrictions are already widely implemented in schools in Northern Ireland, so should government act in the same way and ban smart phones in schools here?

St Marys High School Downpatrick is typical of a lot of schools in Northern Ireland and argues the case well for restrictions on mobile phone use by pupils in their published information to parents.

They point out that recent research on mobile phone usage by teenagers has raised significant concerns around potential mental health issues, insomnia and academic underperformance, consequently withdrawing support for the use of mobile phones in school.

The school also quotes a study published on Childnet which revealed, among other things, the dangers teenagers who engage with social media during the night face, namely, affecting sleep, increasing their risk of anxiety and depression, especially given the pressure they can feel to make themselves available 24/7, and the resulting anxiety if they do not respond immediately to texts or posts. 

The Belfast Telegraph on June 20th considered the proposal to follow the move by France.

They report that UK Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has questioned why young children needed phones at school and points out that many schools across the country already don’t allow them.

He is quick to avoid having to act himself however stating that;

“While it is up to individual schools to decide rather than government, I admire head teachers who do not allow mobiles to be used during the school day. I encourage more schools to follow their lead.”

He added that there was evidence to suggest banning phones in schools worked and said “setting boundaries” was important.  He also acknowledged the role of parents in teaching youngsters to use technology safely, but said schools should also play a big part.

So while he praises head teachers who step up and act, it is disappointing, though not surprising that he plans to leave the responsibility and inevitable problems to them.

It would seem that there is support for legislation as a group of Tory MPs has also urged a ban on mobiles during the school day, saying there is evidence it can have “a beneficial effect on pupils’ ability to learn”.

They cite a 2015 study by the London School of Economics which found that where schools banned smart phones or required them to be handed in at the start of the day, pupils’ chances of getting five good GCSEs increased by an average of two per cent. The improvement was even more marked for lower-achieving pupils. Results among pupils in the bottom quarter of achievement improved twice as much as the average.

If the benefits are so clearly defined why will Mr Hancock not bring forward proposals?

Eleanor Busby Education Correspondent for The Independent writing on Tuesday the 4th of  September 2018 about the new ban in France, argues that a recent survey finds that a majority of British parents would support similar legislation in the UK. Currently as we have pointed out in the UK, it is up to the school to decide whether phones should be banned. However, a new poll released as pupils return to school suggested that almost six in 10 (59 per cent) UK parents think students should not be allowed to carry their mobiles around the school grounds. It is not unfortunately an overwhelming view. Schools implementing restrictions will encounter resistance from some parents. The fact that of the 2,022 parents surveyed by Internet Matters, 27 per cent said phones should be permitted during break time, while 34 per cent said they should be permitted during lunchtime, illustrates this problem.

The article highlights the almost universal understanding in schools that cyber bullying is a major cause of concern along with the peer pressure of having the latest device.

Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos is also quoted in the article as saying that: “Children who are starting secondary school are going from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond and they are suddenly having to find their way. On top of that, they have all these new communication tools and the associated risks of starting to interact online – which can be very different from the face-to-face interactions they’re used to.

There are arguments against a universal ban of phones in school of course. Professor Paul Howard-Jones at the University of Bristol, says schools have an important role in helping pupils learn when to use their phones.

 "If school and education is about preparing us for that world, then learning how to use your mobile phone - when it's appropriate, when it's not appropriate, is a very important part of that.

"Children need to learn to self-regulate. They're not being given the opportunity to do that if their phones are taken away at the start of the day."

This is a defensible point but the information about appropriate use can of course be shared with children along with other lifestyle related advice without them actually using the phones in school. On balance the need for strong action by government to support head teachers and schools in this matter is overwhelming. While we should not try to turn back the tide of technological change, we can all see the huge impact mobile phone use is having on social interaction, road safety, social media abuse and instant news communication. Having some “phone free” time every day is surely a benefit rather than a disadvantage for pupils and potentially also beneficial to effective learning and positive social experiences.  


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This article is correct at 05/10/2018

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Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL

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