Secondary schools are introducing strict new bans on mobile phones where all pupils aged up to 16 have to lock them away for the entire day after evidence that it makes children more sociable, alert and active.
From September pupils aged 11 to 16 who own phones at the schools will be required either to hand them in or put them in their lockers when they arrive for registration and only get them back when they leave in the afternoon.
The sea-change in approach coincides with an appeal last week by culture secretary Matthew Hancock in The Daily Telegraph for schools to ban smart phones during the school day. It comes as this newspaper campaigns for a legal duty of care to protect children from digital harms.
Typical is Latymer school in north London where its ban on phones is to be extended to all children up to the end of their GCSE years after its success in restricting access to younger pupils.
The independent school said its ban on mobile phones for pupils aged 11 to 13 had been “incredibly positive” with an increase in children playing outside, attending clubs and societies and socialising with each other.
From September all pupils from 11 to 16 will have to switch off their phones and put them in their lockers from 8.25am to 4pm with parents told they should ring the school if they need to contact their sons or daughters.
Assistant head Matthew Chataway said: “It’s not a question of taking a device away from students, but rather giving them back time, the opportunity to try new activities and the chance to take a break from social media.”
Graveney, a top performing comprehensive,in south London, has introduced a ban where pupils aged 11 to 16 are expected to hand in their phones to their year office when they arrive and collect them when they finish school.
“If phones have not been handed in and are seen or heard during the school day, they will be confiscated and handed into the Year Office. If a phone is confiscated for a second time, parents will be contacted and asked to come into school to collect it,” its policy states.
Tanya Goodin, founder of consultancy on digital health Time to Log Off, said 70% of the 100 schools she advised on tech detox had or were introducing bans on mobile phone use. She said they were effective when schools got parents and pupils to sign up to a “code of conduct” contract.
“A hard copy ‘smart phone code of conduct’ contract re-signed by the school, parent and pupil each academic year requires parents to take this seriously and commit in writing to supporting the school,” she said.
“You’ll still have parents who won’t sign or take it seriously but they’ll be in the minority in each year group which makes the job of the school and lives of the other parents in each year much easier.”
As an alternative to lock-aways, other schools such as Fortismere in north London have banned pupils aged 11 to 16 from bringing them onto their premises during the school day.
Others like West Buckland School, Somerset, have introduced “invisibility” policies where pupils have to keep phones out of sight and switched off during and between lessons. At Shiplake college, Henley-on-Thames, any child caught with a phone between 8am and 5.45pm gets a detention.
Some such as Ipswich School ban them for pupils 13 or under during the school day but older pupils in Year 10 and above are allowed to use them for a minute at a time in constructive ways such as taking a picture of a timetable or notice.
The phenomenal pull of mobile phones has been demonstrated in a study by Harvard Business Review which found people’s concentration could be disrupted even by the presence of a switched-off phone on their desks.
In two tests of cognitive ability involving 800 people, participants who left their switched off phones outside the room achieved “statistically significant” better results than those who left them in their pockets who, in turn, scored higher than those who left them on their desks.
The researchers said it was a fundamental human trait to automatically pay attention to things that are habitually relevant to us, even when they are focused on a different task such as turning our heads when your name is called.
“The mere presence of our smartphones is like the sound of our names — they are constantly calling to us, exerting a gravitational pull on our attention,” they said.