Smartphones in schools: should the UK ban them?

Year Published: 2018

Smartphones in schools are a bug bear of many teachers and parents with pupils using their phones during class and becoming distracted from their lessons. Following, the recent news that France have banned mobiles from primary and middle schools, the question many are asking is: should the UK go as far as other countries and ban smartphones in schools?

Arguments for banning smartphones in schools:

Nick Brown, HR Consultant at SAS Daniels LLP

Nick Brown, HR Consultant

France has stated that banning smartphones in schools is aimed at improving pupils’ reading, writing and communication skills. This ban continues the French policy of disconnecting from technology and follows on from a recent law allowing employees in France the right to disconnect from work by not answering emails outside of working hours.

Studies in the UK show that parents also have concerns about their children’s use of smartphones citing distraction during class, bullying and risk of online predators as their main concerns. The studies also showed that *70% of parents in the UK believe that similar legislation should be implemented here.

A paper written by Louis-Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy from The London School of Economics concluded that pupils perform better in schools that have introduced a mobile phone ban. They also found that the presence of mobile phones had a more significant impact on low achievers.

It would be obvious to most of us that distractions through social media can also cause pupils to lose focus on their studies. For example when pupils are texting friends over applications such as WhatsApp, watching videos and playing games.

The potential for bullying on social media accessed through smartphones is also a problem not just for pupils but also for school staff. The DfE has published guidance for Head Teachers and school staff suggesting evidence that 21% of teachers have suffered from having derogatory comments posted about them. A smartphone ban in schools may not stop this happening out of school hours but would reduce any distractions in the classroom for pupils.

There has also been some evidence to suggest that overuse of mobile phones can cause anxiety, stress and depression not just in pupils but also in staff. If pupils are distracted using mobile phones in class, at the very least, this can lead to staff becoming frustrated with pupils not paying attention. If this leads to periods of ill health, which the school have to manage, there is the obvious financial impact.

 Arguments against banning smartphones in schools:  

The arguments regarding smartphones are not all negative. Smartphones do provide access to an abundance of information for pupils to be able to learn from and share.

They also provide an access for emergencies and parents when required. However even here, the recent survey referred to above, did not provide overwhelming support from parents for mobiles even for these reasons.

What should you consider now? 

Whilst it would appear there are strong arguments for a ban, there isn’t a clear cut answer for schools and it’s likely this topic will be debated for a long time before any laws are changed here in the UK.

For schools who are struggling with the use of smartphones you need to make a decision on whether to ban them or not and back that decision up with clear rules for pupils, parents and staff through guidance, training and school policies.

If you are planning to implement a ban, consider the process for how parents and pupils can contact each other in emergencies. You may also want to consider if there are any safeguards you can put in place to ensure pupils safety on their way to and from school without a phone to make calls in an emergency.

Conversely, if you’re planning on keeping phones in schools, consider updating your rules with designated times for using smartphones and ways to enforce these rules.

Given the prevalence of smartphones and how often they are now used in everyday life the argument could be made that, at the very least, schools should continually be educating students on safe ways to use this technology and highlighting the dangers.

For more information on the use of smartphones in schools impacting HR matters, please contact Nick Brown, HR Consultant, in our Education team on 0161 475 7674 or Stephen Foster, Partner and Head of our Education team on 0161 475 7664. 

*Statistics in this blog are taken from Sky News.

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