School Cell Phone Issue Continues To Ring

Written by on September 15, 2023

By John Freer

Cell phones in schools are a distraction and the catalyst for poor behaviour, this being the general agreement among our school leaders.

Mercury Bay Area School has advised its community that from the start of next term, there will be a total ban on mobile phones at the school.

With the coming election, already National is using the banning of cell phones as a platform to win votes.

Thames High School Principal, Michael Hart, outlined his school’s approach saying he hoped it clarified “this complex and topical issue”.

“We know and are concerned how phones can be a big distraction to learning, and we recognize the ways that continuous access to social media can be challenging. Most of our young people are responsible users of technology, yet we respond to those who do not,” said Michael.

“We have had a position for the last 18 months that phones are not allowed during class time, but we allow use at break times.”

Sharon Moller of Hauraki Plains College said the school implemented a cell phone ban last year.

“Students either leave their phones at home, or hand them in to student services for the day,” said Sharon.

Parents had been very supportive of the action and Sharon said the college intended to continue with the ban.

Waihi College has had a cell phone free policy for a few years, Principal, Alistair Cochrane, said the introduction followed a spate of poor behaviour including the likes of staged and filmed fights.

“Students can have their phones in their bags and especially during the anxious Covid days, parents wanted to retain access to their students, and we were more lenient with enforcement,” said Alistair.

“Whilst there is occasional misuse, it (a ban) has had a positive effect on playground behaviour and most students and parents are happy with the restrictions.”

He added a footnote that to him, talking to each other always seemed like a great idea.

Two other area schools being Coromandel and Whangamata have cell phone policies.

At Coromandel, Principal Tracey Adams, said the recently implemented procedure meant students were expected to have their phones on silent and put into bags during class time.

“For the most part students are on board with this, and it has made a positive difference to learning in classrooms,” said Tracey.

The school will continue to monitor the procedure for its effectiveness.

Cell phones must be “invisible, inaudible, and unattached” at all times during lessons at the Whangamata Area School.

Principal, Alistair Luke, said the school does allow students to have phones at school and to use them during breaks.

Whether this remains, Alistair said a potential tightening of the rule to include the entire school day is being reviewed.

“I would note that at present this is an issue of political relevance, and it could be that the issue is taken out of school’s hands anyway if there is a change of government and indicative policy is enacted.

“If that were not to materialise, we would continue with a consultation on our current policy with a view to making any changes at the beginning of the next school year.”

Back to Ross Dunn of the Mercury Bay Area School. He tells it how it is and with the support of his Board of Trustees and staff.

“We have the responsibility to ensure we provide a safe and secure environment for all our ākonga, and we take this responsibility very seriously.

“The decision to remove cell phones from our school is in response to a growing body of national and international evidence around the harm that they are potentially causing our young people.

“At its most basic, cell phones are a constant distraction in class. However, and increasingly, they are also the tool of anti-social behaviour, including cyberbullying, fighting, theft, non-consented videoing and sending of images, and increased negative interactions during the school day.

“Teachers are having to repeatedly challenge students who are on their phones during class time, and phones, with data, allow a disturbing level of unfettered access to all aspects of the internet, including inappropriate and disturbing material,” wrote Ross in the school newsletter.

Next month the Thames High School Board has the matter on its agenda.

Michael told CFM the school had been reviewing its policy including carrying out consultation with a survey of staff, students and parents.

“Our community has a range of perspectives, and the board has considered the initial findings of the consultation and will continue to consider policy regarding phones at its October meeting.

The school also recently held a community meeting about cyber-bullying and the impact of social media, this hosted by police and Netsafe.

As Michael summed up, which has been shown by the many different approaches to cell phone access in schools, “we appreciate that this is a topic of concern and know there is no one silver bullet.”


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