Ban on mobile phones can be part of school behaviour solution - Sue Webber
It’s an extreme example of how mobile phones may be used to facilitate the most appalling crimes, but smartphones and social media are acknowledged as a cause of disruptive behaviour among schoolchildren.
This week’s Scottish Government Behaviour in Scottish Schools report could not be clearer: “In secondary schools, the behaviour most commonly reported as having the greatest negative impact was pupils using/looking at mobile phones or tablets when they should not,” it said.
More than half of secondary school staff (52 per cent) said this was one of the three behaviours that had the greatest negative impact.
The president of Edinburgh’s EIS teaching union branch, Phill Pearce, also reported this week that teachers at 97 per cent of city schools experienced increased anxiety or depression, and a significant increase in aggressive pupil-on-teacher incidents in the last four years. The NAS/UWT union reported that female teachers suffered disproportionately, and some pupils had used their phones to video them without permission.
Of course, most pupils are well-behaved, but all suffer from the consequences of disruption and are vulnerable to distraction, and experts recognise the addictive nature of constant access to social media.
We know mobile phones are not the only cause of growing school discipline problems – the report also cites rising incidences of drug and alcohol consumption – but if mobile phones are a significant contributor, then their removal must surely be part of the solution.
The King’s old school Gordonstoun made headlines earlier this year when phones were banned, and the head Lisa Kerr was spot on to argue, “we don’t allow them unfettered access to other addictive substances, so why mobiles?”
And she was right to claim “it’s lazy, irresponsible, and dangerous not to place controls on young people’s access to an online world which they, and we, simply don’t fully understand and can’t control.”
Quietly, other schools are following suit and Edinburgh Royal High School recently outlawed phone use during teaching, and head teacher Pauline Walker says it took a couple of weeks for pupils to realise the school was serious. Now they are more engaged and less anxious about what they might be missing on their phones, but know they will be confiscated for the rest of the day if they are seen in use.
One problem cited in the Behaviour in Schools report was “a perceived lack of consequences for pupils who engage in serious disruptive behaviour,” so it’s essential they know rule-breaking means trouble.
How telling the report says declining behaviour accelerated from 2016 at the same time as a decrease in the use of “detention, punishment exercises and exclusions”. The EIS cites a 7 per cent cut in the education budget in 2015 as a cause. Go figure.
Banning mobile phones in schools won’t solve deep-rooted problems, but it will help. It doesn’t need more talking shops or a change in the law, but I’ll leave the last word to Lisa Kerr: “Teenagers rarely thank adults for placing boundaries, but we will never forgive ourselves if we don’t act now.” Over to you, Jenny Gilruth.
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative Lothian MSP