While many acknowledge they can have benefits for learning, the effect on pupils’ behaviour and attention spans mean others favour a full ban
Child in uniform holds a phone
‘My lessons became much more manageable’: teachers on banning phones. Photograph: True Images/Alamy
‘My lessons became much more manageable’: teachers on banning phones. Photograph: True Images/Alamy
Education‘I would crank up the restrictions’: teachers on banning phones in school

While many acknowledge they can have benefits for learning, the effect on pupils’ behaviour and attention spans mean others favour a full ban

  • A UN report has suggested smartphones should be banned in schools globally to protect children’s mental health and improve learning. In many schools, smartphones are not allowed to be used during lessons and should be turned off but can be used for emergencies.

    Here, five teachers share their experiences on smartphone use in schools and how banning them affects teaching and learning.

    Bryan McConnell
    Bryan McConnell

    “In my experience as a secondary school science teacher, phones were nothing but a problem before they were banned at my school in 2018. The biggest issue I had personally was students getting their phones out in lessons and not doing what I was asking them to do.

    “The second issue was with safeguarding. For example, kids taking photos of each other or staff in lessons, or a fight breaking out in the yard and kids taking videos of it and putting it on the internet. Or if internet bullying was going on outside school on social media, this would be brought into the school with messages being sent during lessons.

    “The school leadership decided on an outright ban. This new rule was a battle for senior school leaders, with many complaints from parents. But they eventually realised that the school was going to take this policy seriously.

    “My lessons became much more manageable. I didn’t have to stop lessons to ask kids to put their phones away any more, and the kids seemed to interact better with each other and behaviour improved. It’s been the best thing we ever did. I think all schools should ban phones.” Bryan McConnell, 37, secondary school science teacher, Liverpool

    Adam Fletcher
    Adam Fletcher

    “I’m a teacher at an 11-18 secondary school with 1,200 kids, where I’ve been teaching since 2000. We don’t allow the use of smartphones except in certain open areas before school and during break time. There is talk of banning even that use. Most students adhere to these rules, but some don’t and two to three times a week I have to take the phone off someone and it escalates, which happens across the school.

    “My concerns about phones in the classroom are equity and practicality – you can’t plan lessons around smartphone use unless you’re going to make sure everybody has one, and it is charged up and there’s data available or it connects to the school network, or else you’re excluding pupils from learning.

    “We ran a trial, back in pre-smartphone days, with all of KS3 (11- to 14-year-olds) having cheap, subsidised PDAs – essentially smartphones without phones – with every subject having to build lessons around them. And every lesson three people wouldn’t have them, four people wouldn’t have charged them and five people would have random unsolvable issues, and the lessons were impossible.

    “I can’t see a blanket ban happening, pupils and parents would just ignore it. But I am concerned about smartphones in the classroom, also with regard to attention spans.” Adam Fletcher, 54, teacher at a secondary school in Wolverhampton

    Lizzie Martin
    Lizzie Martin

    “Our school banned them about five years ago – kids can bring them to school but they can’t use them at all. Before they were allowed to use them during break and lunch but the headteacher felt they weren’t being social with each other during break times, which I agree with.

    “We used them on a weekly basis in music before the ban – pupils could record things on their phones and play around with the recordings. It’s slowed down learning and I know subjects like dance and drama are similarly affected.

    “It’s a double-edged sword. Since Covid there are interesting ways to use technology in the classroom and it’s a missed opportunity to not use them. At the same time, kids can potentially share recordings in a harmful or bullying way.” Lizzie Martin, 38, head of music in a secondary school in Cheshire

    Martin Devlin
    Martin Devlin

    “In our school we allow phones as long as they’re switched off and put away, and we all know that’ll never be the case when dealing with teenagers. We don’t ban smartphones as children are permitted to be able to call their parents or guardian and let them know their whereabouts. However, we are now seeing an issue where children are addicted to vaping and the phone is used to plan when to bunk off to go and vape together.

    “When monitored, though, I do think smartphones and technology can be used in a positive way, and I’ve found that integrating some of the learning methods from Covid has been great. Sometimes when I’m writing down notes on the board the sixth-form kids just take a picture of all the content and this really helps them to have all the information in one place.

    “If I had the choice I would crank up the restrictions on smartphones and especially social media because they’re hindering students’ academic progress. The smartphones expose the kids to misinformation and it’s a learning distraction of course. There are many dangerous people online promoting self-harm and the safeguarding worries are huge.” Martin Devlin, 59, assistant headteacher at St Bernard’s Catholic high school, Barrow-in-Furness

    Adam Lee Barrett
    Adam Lee Barrett

    “Teenagers with cellphones don’t learn and use them and hide them under their desks. It’s a daily chore to walk around the classroom trying to collect them, especially when they say they don’t have them and put them in their pockets.

    “In Cambodia, where I have been a teacher for five years, students are allowed to answer their phone if their parents call. When I catch them using them in class, they’re often playing games or are on social media. Sometimes they even make TikTok videos.

    “Smartphone use definitely affects their learning as they’re not paying attention. It also means I need to change my focus from educating to discipline. I’m allowed to take their phone away but I think it would be just fine if they were put in their lockers in the morning and left there till the end of the day. I certainly think getting rid of them would help. Smartphones in schools are a problem.” Adam Lee Barrett, 47, English, maths and science teacher, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

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