Classroom smartphone ban: Scotland should join France, Italy and others to restore order in schools – Stephen Jardine

Some pupils try to goad staff in order to film their reaction on a smartphone and then posted it on TikTok

With just over a week to go, Santa’s little helpers are hard at work getting gifts ready for little children. It might be nice to think they are sewing footballs, assembling bicycles and testing magic kits, but if the list of most demanded presents is anything to go by, they are probably toiling deep in the lithium mines gathering components for the ubiquitous smartphones.

Latest figures from Ofcom reveal an astonishing one-in-five toddlers in the UK now own a mobile phone. By the age of 12 that jumps to 97 per cent. The full impact of that technological leap in development will only be seen in the years ahead but the behavioural impact is already becoming clear in the classroom.

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New figures last week showed a continued decline in key areas of education performance in Scotland. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which conducted the research, mobile phones represent part of the problem. When questioned, 31 per cent of Scottish pupils admitted being distracted by digital devices in most or every lesson.

Teachers divided

This week Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth reacted by announcing that she would back any head teacher in Scotland who decided to ban mobile phones from the classroom. It sounds an obvious solution but it’s not. Even teachers are divided on this issue.

I’ve spoken with some who believe mobile phones are the biggest barrier to teaching in the classroom. Others see them as a vital learning tool and point out how wedded parents are to their devices. If children are going out into a world dominated by technology, don’t we have an obligation to ensure they are ready for that?

Some parents favour a ban because it would back the restrictions they try to put on mobile phone usage in the home but others feel reassured knowing they can be in touch with their kids whenever they deem necessary. One teacher told me he has pupils who regularly send and receive messages from parents during lessons.

If phones were a straightforward learning and communication tool, this would be an easier issue but footage from mobile phones is increasingly a factor in classroom violence. Images are also used to target teachers on social media; some pupils try to goad staff, with their reactions then posted on TikTok.

Use school tablets instead

Until we know the full implications of all this, the only sensible way forward is a classroom ban. Countries like France and Italy have had this in place for years with New Zealand now also joining that list. Some schools here have already introduced restrictions with phones left in lockers at the start of the day. A few who have measured the impact have noticed an improvement in classroom concentration and subsequent exam results.

This doesn’t mean we should ignore technology. Every Scottish pupil should have access to a school tablet or device that enables them to learn online and discover the power of digital technology. But personal devices linked to social media accounts and chat groups deliver too many negatives and not enough positives. We need to be in charge of the technology, not the other way round.

So if fewer smartphones are delivered to kids this Christmas, that may be no bad thing. Parents and teachers may be divided but Santa always knows what’s best for children.



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