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How UK Schools Deal with Cell Phones

Cell Phones in UK Schools

Teachers have always had to fight for the attention of their students. Not long ago they would only be dealing with gossip, note passing, and the occasional trading card. The latest distraction of the mobile phone in the classroom can often be much more difficult to control.

Some teachers have even reported children watching Netflix in the middle of class. There a varying opinions on what should be done regarding the use of mobiles phones by students.

How UK Schools Approach Mobile Phones

Some countries – notably France – have strict laws against cell phone use in schools. There are no laws in the UK that prohibit children from using them. The decision on how to deal with phones is left to individual schools. It can get confusing and certainly far from consistent. Some schools do ban them outright, and then there are other schools that embrace phones as a teaching aid and encourage kids to use them as part of their schoolwork.

In Shiplake College in Henley-on-Thames for example, children that use their mobile phones between 8:15 and 5:45 are given a detention. The headmaster of the school, Gregg Davies, admits that phones can be a great tool, but he found children were being distracted and even losing their ability to communicate in person. The use of cell phones in school was therefore dropped since the policy was introduced.

Then there is Brighton College, where students are encouraged to play games like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit during free periods, instead of using their cell phones. The move is an effort to encourage pupils to socialize with each other more without having to use mobile devices. There are also varying bans on phones where certain pupils are allowed them on certain days of the week; effectively weaning students off their phones over time.

How Phones can Help

The reality is that phones aren’t all bad and studies have shown that banning mobile phones can help in education. Students say that having their phones on hand can improve their engagement, motivation, productivity, and creativity. Some teachers also believe that mobile phones can help, and there have been successful integrations into the classroom.

Mobile phones can give students all the information that they could ever need. A phone by itself can educate students and there lots of phone apps that are even encouraged by schools, particularly those that build relaxation skills and help students find resources. The potential for phones as a learning tool is practically endless.

The Law on Confiscating Mobile Phones

One thing to consider is this; who is responsible if a phone is confiscated and then gets lost or damaged? Would it be the teacher who confiscated the phone, the student who brought it to the school, or the school itself?

Legally, the school has indeed taken possession of the phone. However, in the UK, Section 94 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 says that neither the teacher or the school is responsible for loss or damage of items confiscated as a form of punishment. It also provides no statutory liability for items that are lost in other ways.

There are a few caveats though. The disciplinary penalty has to be lawful; it has to be reasonable and proportionate to the “crime”. Schools must also clearly communicate their policy on mobile phones to students. The school can get in trouble if the pupil who has their phone confiscated was not aware this could happen. Also, teachers are expected to take reasonable care to ensure that items they confiscate are safe, such as storing them securely in the staff room. At the end of the day, unfortunately for the students – the law is ultimately on the side of the teachers and schools.

Should Schools Ban Mobile Phones?

Matt Hancock – the Culture Secretary for the UK – says that more schools need to ban mobile phones. He admires headmasters who don’t allow students to use their phones and believes social media can facilitate bullying. He personally doesn’t allow his children to own their own phones and use social media, but doesn’t think it is the responsibility of the government to legislate against children using phones and technology. He believes it is up to parents and schools to do the right thing, rather than being told to do so by the government.

Schools are all handling cell phone use in their own way. Some are for them and some are against their use. The Culture secretary himself is against them, but doesn’t plan on attempting to introduce legislation to prohibit them.

Read more about kids and cell phones, including Cell Phone Safely Tips.

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