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Should mobile phones be allowed in schools?

2011 April 7
by Paul Vallely

Mobile phones are an everyday reality in the lives of modern children. A combination of parental anxiety and teenage peer pressure has made the cellphone part of normal life. But sensible constraints must be placed on their use. Having said that there is clearly more to the abuse of phones at the heart of the dispute which yesterday saw teachers at a school near Blackburn come out on strike.

Their allegation is that certain pupils are constantly swearing, pushing and shoving staff, making malicious allegations, filming lessons, and teachers, on their phones and threatening to post them on the internet.  When staff confiscate pupils’ phones for these offences, along with cyber bullying and accessing pornography, the phones are returned to the children by the school’s management team, undermining the authority of the teachers.

The staff, headteacher and local authority all agree that Darwen Vale High School is not like the infamous Ridings School in Halifax, which in the 1990s was labelled the worst school in the country after teachers walked as scores of pupils ran out of control.  Indeed pupil behaviour at Darwen was rated as good by Ofsted last year. The breakdown in Darwen appears to be one of trust between the staff and the head who began her first full academic year at the school only in September. It ought not to be beyond the wit of a competent education authority and board of governors to fix that.

Even so it is clear that guidelines are needed on the use of phones in school. Teachers cannot teach, and pupils cannot learn, if some children are being disruptive. Good discipline involves setting boundaries which are firm, fair and clear. The Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced sensible measures to improve discipline in schools, restoring to teachers the right to use reasonable force to separate fighting pupils, to give on-the-day detentions, to search pupils for restricted items including phones, and giving teachers anonymity in complaints to guard against vexatious allegations.

But schools must be realistic about children’s possession of mobile phones, perhaps introducing systems to check phones into pigeonholes at the start of the school day or of every lesson. The rules must be clear, and so must be the sanctions for those who break them.

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