Are Students Embracing Phone Free Schools?

Mobile phones. For all their graces, they have been an undeniable interruption to school life. As such, it’s no surprise that the UK government is poised to crackdown on the use of phones in schools around England to minimise the disruption they cause and improve behaviour in classrooms.

While the benefits are clear, it’s uncertain how students will respond. After all, students being rather attached to their phones is a significant understatement. Addiction would be a better word to describe the attachment between teenagers and mobile phones.

Nevertheless, even students who can’t get enough of those long social media scrolls would probably be the first to admit how damaging these devices can be.

So, the question remains: How will students react to the new mobile phone guidance? A school in Lancashire seems to think it may be rather well.

Government Launches Mobile Phone Crackdown

On 19 February 2024, the UK government issued the new mobile phones in school guidance. These guidelines empower headteachers to enforce a ban on mobile phone usage throughout the school day, including during breaks.

While many schools across the country are already prohibiting mobile phone usage, this new guidance hasn’t come a minute too soon. In recent years, stats linking mobile phone and social media usage to mental health issues have become increasingly prevalent. Recent events, such as Mark Zuckerberg’s forced apology to parents who attributed their children’s deaths to suicides or drug overdoses linked to social media, have also highlighted the tragic consequences of these devices.

Regrettably, such events leave little room for surprise. After all, as per an Ofcom report, by the age of 12, 97% of children have their own mobile phone. Such staggering statistics demonstrate how, by the time they begin secondary school, most teens may already be facing issues of online bullying, damaged self-esteem and classroom distraction, all ultimately affecting their mental well-being and learning.

Last year, Unesco advocated for a complete ban on smartphones in schools, echoing the concerns voiced by parents. According to ParentKind’s National Parent Survey, 50% of parents with secondary school children worry about their children’s excessive screen time.

But how will the government successfully implement its goals of reducing the presence of phones in schools?

Proclaiming this as a top priority, the government aims to address these challenges by expanding its investment in behaviour hubs, allocating £10m to support up to 700 schools over three years. This investment, coupled with existing behaviour guidance, seeks to assist schools in creating phone-free environments and fostering healthier learning environments.

Meet The Students Embracing Guidelines

A recent BBC report highlights the remarkable success of a mobile phone scheme at Mount Carmel Roman Catholic High School and, while it’s no surprise that staff have had a positive reaction to the scheme, what may be a little more surprising is the reaction of the pupils.

Pupils in the Lancashire school have reported improved focus and fewer distractions after being made to hand in their phones during school, emphasising the benefits of taking time to digitally detox from our devices from time to time.

Deputy headteacher Paul Dugdale explained that the initiative originated from a safeguarding perspective, aiming to protect students from issues like bullying and online abuse, making reports from students singling out better focus an even more pleasant surprise.

“We can control what they see online in our IT systems but they could be accessing anything on their own phones”, Mr Dugdale explained,

“We knew they wanted their phones for on the way to school and going home, especially in winter going home in the dark – so this is the best of both worlds.”

Phones are now securely stored in locked cabinets each morning, with a scanner to detect any phones not locked away helping to reinforce compliance.

While one may assume this would cause upset among students, the pupils of Mount Carmel are defying expectations and prompting hope that teenagers are more than capable of adapting well to the change, demonstrating their ability to be mature in managing without their beloved digital devices.

One student stated: “Bullying has gone down and I feel safe knowing it is in a locker where nobody can take it and it cannot fall out of my blazer pocket”, while another acknowledged: “It has been really good when your phone is locked away you are not distracted.”

Despite some students admitting that, at the beginning, it was “quite a shock” and “we didn’t like it”, it seems the students at this school have come around to the idea.
Their experience underscores the potential for schools to address the impact of mobile phones on focus and mental well-being through effective strategies and actively listening to student feedback – a significantly positive step forward in minimising digital distractions and prioritising student well-being.