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Should mobile phones be banned in Norfolk schools?

Minister for Schools Nick Gibb who has said that mobile phones should be banned from classrooms, with pupils to be lectured about the dangers of device dependency. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Minister for Schools Nick Gibb who has said that mobile phones should be banned from classrooms, with pupils to be lectured about the dangers of device dependency. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Mobile phones should be banned from classrooms, with pupils to be lectured about the dangers of device dependency, the schools minister has said.

Schools already have the power to decide whether they want to ban phones from classrooms, with two Norfolk examples including Reepham High School and Great Yarmouth Charter Academy .

But schools minister Nick Gibb said he had concerns about the impact that excessive phone use was having on children, and said the government would introduce lessons for pupils on how to limit their screen time.

Great Yarmouth Charter Academy hit headlines in 2017 when new rules said mobile phones would be confiscated if they are seen or heard until the end of the next half term - or, if they are taken in the last two weeks of any term, until the following half terms.

At the time an internal document said: “If we confiscated your phone in the last two weeks of summer term we will keep your phone until mid-October. That’s almost four months. If your phone accidentally goes off or accidentally falls out of your pocket we confiscate it.”

Barry Smith, headteacher of Great Yarmouth Charter Academy.  Photo: Archant LibraryBarry Smith, headteacher of Great Yarmouth Charter Academy. Photo: Archant Library

While Tim Gibbs, headteacher at Reephan High School, told BBC Radio Norfolk last year the decision to ban mobile phones meant the pupils had more interaction with each other, there was a reduction in the “distraction factor” during lesson time, and it allowed the school to “lead the way” in supporting parents helping to reduce screen time and the time spent on social media.

He said: “Mobile phones are no longer an issue here. It was an easy and simple decision to make.”

The ban on mobile phones at Reepham High is enforced in the high school only and not for sixth form students. And although the phones are banned during school hours, they are not physically removed from the pupils as long as they are left switched off and unused in their bags.

Mr Gibbs added that parents had also supported the ban.

Reepham High School and College head teacher Tim Gibbs. Photo: KAREN BETHELLReepham High School and College head teacher Tim Gibbs. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

The Daily Mail also reported that parents will be told to limit children’s screen time to protect their health.

Speaking to The Times, the schools minister said: “Schools obviously are free to set their own behaviour policies but my own view is that schools should ban mobile telephones and smartphones inside school, and particularly inside classrooms.

“I believe very strongly that children should be limiting their own use at home.

“Every hour spent online and on a smartphone is an hour less talking to family, and it’s an hour less exercise and it’s an hour less sleep.

“And of course it is a lack of sleep that research is showing can have a damaging effect on a child’s mental health.”

The Daily Mail reported that children will be told to break off at least every two hours and avoid social media before bedtime, according to guidance being drawn up by chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies.

The Department of Health and Social Care said Dame Sally’s commentary and advice for parents “is still being finalised”.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Head Teachers warned banning phones in schools outright could make tackling the associated problems harder.

“Outright banning mobile phones can cause more problems than it solves, driving phone use ‘underground’ and making problems less visible and obvious for schools to tackle,” said the association’s senior policy adviser, Sarah Hannafin.

“Ultimately, schools work to prepare young people for the outside world, giving them the awareness and strategies to responsibly monitor their own screen use and the ability to identify and deal with any negative impacts or problematic content they encounter.”

The UK would be following in the footsteps of European counterparts if schools were to introduce a ban on phones, with French pupils being told to leave their smartphones at home when they returned from their summer holidays last year.

Mr Gibb is the latest figure in education to support such a move, with former Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw saying devices were disrupting lessons.

Teachers have also complained about pupils being distracted or using the phones to take upskirt images of staff in the classroom.

Speaking at the Festival of Education at Wellington College last summer, Sir Michael said that “any sensible head would ban mobile phones”.

“It’s interesting that President Macron is now bringing in legislation in France to ban mobile phones in state schools in France. We should do the same here.

“It’s far too distracting for children having mobile phones. Texting, sexting, all this takes place. Mobile phones go off in classrooms, disrupting lessons. Ban them.

“If children want to use a phone in an emergency they can use the school phone.”

A subsequent study conducted by researchers at Rutgers University in the United States concluded that students scored the equivalent of half a grade less in end-of-term tests if they were allowed to use their devices for non-academic reasons in their classes.

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