Mobile phones having poor impact on pupil behaviour, survey says

Some 71% of secondary school teachers say mobile phones are having a poor impact on pupil behaviour, according to a survey.

In its annual survey, the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) education committee found that its members held a number of concerns regarding mobile phones in the classroom.

The survey took place in February 2024, with 1,451 members responding.

Meanwhile, 90% of respondents reported pupils having detachment problems, with the same percentage stating they were concerned that pupils had been texting during lessons.

While 80% reported pupils taking photos on their phones during class, and 60% said they were worried about social media bullying, with phones in the classroom being a factor.

Respondents also said pupils had answered calls during lessons, viewed inappropriate content, and had broadcasted live recordings of lessons online.

In total, almost all of the respondents told the survey their classes had been interrupted due to mobile phones.

“Thirteen per cent of members said half their lessons were interrupted but, more worryingly, 75% said the majority to all their lessons were interrupted.”

Members also said pupils were caught using their phones to play games, listen to music, watch TV shows, and even to contact their parents to complain about school staff.

Some 86% of respondents said they ask pupils to put their phones away, with 83% telling them to put their phones in school bags.

Two thirds (67%) said phones were to be placed on their teacher’s desk if they were caught using them in lessons.

Other teachers have told to put their phones on silent, with some asking them to place their phones into a box or similar at the start of lessons.

Teachers would also issue detentions, demerits, and messages to the parents of schoolkids caught using phones in class.

They would also confiscate phones, but said this led to confrontation from pupils due to the possibility of theft.

Mobile phones
A pupil uses a mobile phone in class (Ben Birchall/PA)

“In many cases this was due to the lack of access to other mobile devices or poor connectivity within the school.

“64% of members stated that wi-fi connection is variable to poor and 30% saying that they do not have access to a class set of mobile devices for use in their lessons”.

“72%, of schools have a mobile phones policy in place, to try and address issues but only 10% stated that the policy was extremely/very effective.”

He added: “Schools are struggling to implement successful mobile phone policies.

“There are several issues with implementing a policy such as inconsistency, legality, pupils conforming, no consequences, support from local authorities that need to be resolved”.

Mr Searson added: “Mobile phones are preventing teachers from teaching and creating problems for pupils that are on a scale many teachers and parents cannot imagine.

“The mobile phone is the most important possession to pupils and is taking over their lives and their futures.

“There needs to be a concerted effort from the Scottish Government, local authorities, schools working together with teachers, pupils and their parents to redress the balance of what is acceptable mobile phone use and its place in a young person’s life”.

Independent boarding school Gordonstoun has limited the use of mobile phones since 2017, and since 2023, has informed pupils to leave their phones in boarding houses throughout the day and hand them to staff overnight.

Sixth year pupils may keep their phones, but must be switched off during the school day.

School mobile phone ban
Lisa Kerr, principal of Gordonstoun school (Gordonstoun/PA)

She said: “It seems we have now reached a tipping point where the devices are doing more harm than good to the extent it’s preventing teachers from doing their jobs properly.

“Teachers and schools must be supported in their efforts to ban phones from classrooms during the day, otherwise children’s education will continue to suffer, and behaviour issues will only get worse.”

She added: “Every school has handled incidents of cyber bullying, but this has completely fallen off a cliff at Gordonstoun.

“Academic focus is much better and over the past five years, we’ve seen a marked improvement in our academic results, which is partially attributable to our mobile phone policy.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While the Scottish Government does not have the power to unilaterally ban mobile phones in schools, we will soon bring forward refreshed guidance on their use.

“As a starting point for this guidance, head teachers should be empowered to take any action they deem necessary, including the restriction of their use.”

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