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Use of mobile phones at schools becoming ‘prolific’, heads warn, as latest school introduces ban

PUBLISHED: 08:00 02 September 2017 | UPDATED: 14:57 02 September 2017

Reepham High School and College. Picture: Antony Kelly

Reepham High School and College. Picture: Antony Kelly

Archant Norfolk 2016

Headteachers have warned the use of mobile phones at schools has become “prolific”, amid fears the technology is risking safety and hindering learning.

Hobart High School headteacher Jim Adams. Picture: Nick Butcher Hobart High School headteacher Jim Adams. Picture: Nick Butcher

Schools say growing numbers of students - including primary pupils - are now glued to their gadgets, prompting concerns over safeguarding, education and behaviour.

There are even fears that dependency on smartphones may be hampering efforts to settle students back into learning after the freedom of school breaks.

It comes as the latest school in the region opts to enforce a ban on phones at school in a bid to tackle the issue.

Tim Gibbs, principal at Reepham High School, said he hoped the new rule would take pressure off students and parents, allow teachers to focus on learning and cut inappropriate behaviour.

Pupils were formerly allowed to use phones at break and lunch times, but will now have to keep them in their bags all day.

“The use of phones is becoming prolific and inappropriate,” he said. “We have found this year there have been several more cases than you would expect of teachers or other pupils being filmed secretly and put on social media, so we want to eliminate that risk.”

He said there were benefits to using mobile phones as tools in lessons, and that the new ban would be on a trial basis.

With many of its pupils travelling in by bus, Mr Gibbs said it would be unfair to not allow students to bring phones at all. If they are spotted in school, they will be confiscated. Reepham College students will be unaffected.

Tim Gibbs, principal at Reepham High School. Picture: Reepham High School Tim Gibbs, principal at Reepham High School. Picture: Reepham High School

“There’s huge pressure on pupils to have one and it’s got out of hand,” he said.

“I emailed parents at the end of term and it’s been a really positive reaction so far.”

He said students sometimes brought in smartphones and broke them. In one case, he said, he had been asked to cover the costs of repair.

The school is far from the only one to make the move - we asked 26 headteachers their thoughts, and 46pc said they do not allow mobile phones in school.

Another 42pc said they did, but not in lessons, while 12pc said pupils were allowed some use in lessons.

And when we asked our readers whether they thought phones should be banned from school, 68pc of the 108 respondents said yes.

One form tutor said she had noticed students’ eagerness to learn at the start of term dip in recent years.

“I have noticed over the last few years that more and more of our pupils are finding it harder to return to school,” she said.

A student using a smartphone. Photo: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire A student using a smartphone. Photo: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

“Some have poor attendance in the first few weeks as they struggle to cope with the pressure of the new school year... After spending several weeks interacting with others via social media, the thought of facing hundreds of people in the flesh next week must be daunting.”

But rather than a distraction, one English teacher in mid Norfolk said mobile phones should be viewed instead as a learning tool.

“It comes down to trust,” she said. “With younger pupils it may be difficult, but for older students it’s about trust. They know they are only allowed to use phones when I say so.

“It seems a waste to have a £500 bit of kit in their pocket which they can’t make the most of.”

She said smartphones could be used to take photographs of mind maps, do research, find definitions, check spellings and record quotes as a revision tool.

Jim Adams, headteacher at Hobart High School, in Loddon, agreed that mobile phones had learning value - but said the cons outweighed the benefits.

“At Hobart, students hand in mobile phones at the start of the day and the system works really well,” he said. “But that’s probably because it has always been that way.

“It is a really tough one to solve when it becomes a problem - the genie is now out of the bottle.

A pupil using their smartphone as a calculator during a lesson. Photo: David Jones/PA Wire A pupil using their smartphone as a calculator during a lesson. Photo: David Jones/PA Wire

“In previous schools I’ve had cases where a teacher was really unwell, and a student videoed that and put it online. Also, at another school, a teacher was struggling to control a class and a student filmed it and put it up too.”

He said that schools, along with much of society, had not “anticipated the pace at which technology would grow”.

In our survey, 81pc of headteachers said they had seen a difference in pupils’ mobile phone usage in recent years, with one saying there was a “substantial increase”.

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