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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Steph Brawn

Stricter rules around phones in Scottish schools being considered by minister

STRICTER rules around the use of mobile phones in schools are being considered by education secretary Jenny Gilruth amid concerns they are “detrimental” to brain development.

The ex-modern studies teacher told The Times she is “very interested” in a UN report that recommends banning phones to improve concentration and reduce bullying.

However, she has said a complete ban would be “pretty much impossible” in this day and age.

Phones are set to be banned for students in the Netherlands next year while in France children up to the age of 15 have to leave their phones switched off during the school day.

Gilruth said she is considering ordering research into the effect tighter phone policies could have, given she has heard teachers are now struggling to confiscate devices.

She said: “When I was last in schools [2015] I could confiscate a phone and I could put it in a brown envelope and the child would not get it back until the next day. Colleagues say they cannot do that today.

“The young person says it is my right to have my phone.

“Some people can argue phones can be great learning devices and can be used in the classroom to support learning and teaching.

“I worry about young people growing up with the pressures of social media. I am so old [that] when I was at school we did not have social media. If something awful happened at the weekend it was not posted online.

“Life can be lived out on that device and equally [I think] that device can affect brain development, the way in which you process information. I think it can be detrimental to that.”

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Gilruth’s predecessor, rejected a ban on mobile phones after a consultation from Westminster on ideas such as “mobile-free days”.

Some Scottish schools have already looked into the idea. Kilgraston School in Perthshire reported improved human interaction after a ban on phone use in school hours.

The Glasgow Gaelic School has also agreed to ban phone use during and between classes with the support of pupils, while hundreds of parents signed a petition urging Dunbar Grammar School to look at limiting use this summer.

Unesco, the education, science and culture arm of the UN, looked at 200 education systems worldwide and estimated that one in six had banned smart phones.

Unesco said several studies found that bans improved academic performance while allowing access was distracting and gave the potential for cyber-bullying.

Gilruth, who has been in her current post since March, said she was concerned about how attachment to phones could be diminishing enthusiasm for reading in children.

She said: “I like to read to calm myself down and it uses a different part of your brain I think.

“We want to encourage those techniques in our young people. I think a lot of our teenagers are spending a lot of time on these devices into the small hours and that is affecting learning and teaching.

“I think banning them would be pretty much impossible in the current context, but I do think we need to have more of a measured approach to technology.”

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