A recent 2019 survey of how schools manage pupils’ use of mobile devices has found that schools across the country have broadly similar approaches, particularly when it comes to attitudes as children grow older. The survey, conducted by the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) and based on responses from 94 schools, found that schools generally allow greater access as children become older and learn how to assume more personal responsibility.

When asked if pupils are allowed to have their mobile phones in school during the school day, just 16 per cent of schools allow Year 7 pupils to keep their mobile phone on their person, with over half (53 per cent) requiring pupils to keep phones in their locker/schoolbag. A total of 31 per cent either require pupils to hand in their phones on arrival or ban them altogether.

By contrast, by the time students reach sixth form and Years 12 and 13, 85 per cent of schools allow them to keep their mobile phones on their person, 23 per cent require them to keep phones in their locker/schoolbag, and 2.5 per cent either require students to hand in their phones on arrival or ban them altogether.

Addressing girls’ school heads at the GSA’s annual conference, GSA president Gwen Byrom, said: ‘Everyone has an opinion – and some facts – about the negative impact of social media and mobile devices on children’s mental health. I do think… (we) adults must look to our own screen time and also the positive impact of screen-based technology on children’s future careers. I think it’s fair to say that it’s how we use technology, rather than technology per se, that is potentially harmful. The findings show broadly similar approaches, considering individual schools are free to adopt whatever policy they deem most appropriate.”

The survey shows that among those schools which allow pupils to use personal mobile phones in school during the school day, there are restrictions as to where on school premises they are allowed to use them. The survey found that, across all age groups:

 

88% of schools don’t allow pupils to use their phones in the school corridors

79% of schools don’t allow pupils to use their phones in any ‘public areas’

96% of schools don’t allow pupils to use their phones in the dining room

65% of schools don’t allow pupils to use their phones in the library

90% of schools DO allow pupils to use their phones in common rooms

 

Behind the bare statistics, comments from individual respondents demonstrate that schools are taking a balanced view about how to handle an inescapable social phenomenon:

 

‘Girls are now using their phones for a greater amount of their free time, so we are watching this carefully.’

‘We have had to introduce more explicit rules re: taking of images which all pupils have to sign to say they understand. This is the most common misdemeanour in our school.’

‘The bad stuff out there should not stop us from encouraging use of the good stuff and teaching the difference. I hesitate to jump on the bandwagon that social media is the source of all ills in modern society.’

‘Pupils from time to time complain [about the ban] but, by and large, it is accepted as school policy. Pupils talk to one another more!’

‘Many pupils are glad they are not allowed to use them everywhere. They say it takes pressure off them. They are using breaktimes to talk and play - there is more noise at break and lunchtimes since we adopted our present strategy.’

‘We had positive support from parents when we withdrew access to phones. There has been little negative backlash from pupils and certainly more face to face interaction without access to mobile phones.’

 

However, when it comes to allowing students to use their mobile phones in the classroom, schools are split pretty evenly, with 48 per cent of schools allowing use and 52 per cent not. Schools that do allow phones in classrooms say:

 

‘It allows the phone to be used as a tool in lessons where appropriate but not to interfere with socialising for the pupils.’

‘In general, we have had fewer issues with online bullying as pupils see the technology as a learning tool.’

But schools that do not allow phones in classrooms take such views as:

‘It reduces distractions during class.’

‘Not allowing phones in classrooms, and providing the pupils with a school-owned and managed device, allows the pupils to see this as a ‘work’ device rather than anything in the classroom that can have access to the distractions of social media etc.’

 

In boarding schools, the survey found a more permissive attitude to mobile and media access once the school day has ended, although the overwhelming majority require pupils in Years 7 to 10 to hand in phones and other mobile devices at bedtime. 

Liz Hewer, head of St George’s School in Ascot, said: “It’s important for children who board to have an environment that mirrors home life. So, at the end of the school day, and with the usual safety and age-appropriate caveats, boarding schools tend to allow access to mobiles and channels and social media such as YouTube, Netflix and Instagram, although most of us take them back at bedtime, particularly from younger pupils.”

With regard to the greater tendency for GSA schools to employ school-owned laptops, Chrome books and iPads in lessons with younger pupils as demonstrated in the survey, Gwen Byrom said: ‘All schools, day and boarding,  control what they can, such as the filters on school wi-fi, but we all recognise that it is impossible to control the wi-fi capabilities of personal mobile devices, so we manage that by removing and restricting access to varying degrees.’