Northern Ireland news

Belfast Royal Academy imposes tough new mobile phone policy

Most post-primary schools operate policies designed to limit the use of phones

A GRAMMAR school is enforcing a tough new mobile phone policy to tackle bullying and stop disruption in classes.

Pupils have been warned they cannot use devices at any time including on buses to and from sports venues, on trips, or shared education projects.

Any phone seen or heard by staff at Belfast Royal Academy (BRA) will be confiscated for up to one week, the school warned.

This extends to devices that can still be seen in blazer or shirt pockets.

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Most post-primary schools operate policies designed to limit the use of phones, however, BRA's goes further.

So strict are the new guidelines that they are said to have outraged some parents.

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Other schools in the area are understood to be considering similar measures.

In its new policy, BRA said mobile technology presented challenges, including interrupting lessons and disrupting the learning of others.

Increasing daily screen time impacted on mental health, it added, and stopped pupils developing healthy relationships with others and participating in extra-curricular activities.

There was also the potential to use phones for texting whilst on silent mode or using the internet to access social media and inappropriate applications.

In addition, the school said there was "the negative impact of social media and cyberbullying".

The school said pupils were discouraged from bringing mobile phones or smart watches.

If parents chose to permit their child to bring a mobile phone to school, it said the following rules apply:

  • Mobile phones should be switched off and out of sight at all times
  • Any phone seen or heard will be confiscated; this includes phones on display in blazer or shirt pockets
  • Pupils may not use their mobile phones to listen to music at any time across the school sites
  • Pupils may not use their mobile phones on the school buses to and from sports venues or on school trips that occur during the school day
  • If a phone rings, or is seen by a member of staff, or if use is made of the phone, it will be confiscated
  • If a phone is confiscated for a second time, it will only be returned to the parent after one week has elapsed

The only exemption to this is when a pupil has been given special permission to keep their phone with them for specific health-related reasons.

Vice principal Martin Wilson was the policy's author.

"The school recognises the benefits that phones offer pupils and parents and realises that an outright ban would result in a loss of these benefits. However, it is the school's responsibility to promote the safe and responsible use of mobile phones during the school day," he said.

"Mobile phones are a part of modern society and the school accepts that many pupils will possess them. They are a useful tool, especially where the issue of safety during the journey to and from school is concerned. The school acknowledges that parents and pupils would want them to be available to achieve this.

"However, teachers and pupils have a right to teach and learn in a school environment which is free from interruption by mobile phones and other such devices."

Gerry Murphy of the INTO teachers' union said the policy appeared to be more comprehensive than any other.

He suggested that such tough policies were the result of the fallout from the `upskirting' case involving a former pupil at a Co Fermanagh grammar school.

Earlier this year, a teenager was found guilty of committing acts of outraging public decency.

He had taken five pictures of two female teachers in 2015 and 2016, when he was 14 and 15.

"Protecting students, teachers and other colleagues who work in a school is the responsibility of the governors," Mr Murphy said.

"The governors in fulfilling their responsibilities in this area need to be cognisant of the rights of both those in their care and their employment. Policies developed to ensure this protection will be most effective if, as part of their development, they are consulted upon with the recognised trade unions and other bodies and persons directly affected."

He added that INTO was greatly concerned that, at present, the education system as a whole was lagging well behind the technological curve.

"Our members are too often finding themselves on the receiving end of attacks mounted via social media. It is time the employers and the Department of Education face up to their responsibilities in this area. Social media and the myriad electronic devices associated with it are here to stay and the education system can't any longer afford to bury its head in the sand and hope it will all just go away," he said.

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THE number of pupils docked marks for bringing mobile phones into the examination room has increased.

Exams boards and school remind young people that they must not bring phones with them.

If they are found to have a mobile phone in their possession, even if it is not used or is switched off, they will lose all marks for that unit.

If caught using the phone, they will be disqualified from the unit. This means they cannot get a grade for that subject.

Despite these warnings, there has been a rise in pupils caught bringing "unauthorised material into the examination room", including phones and electronic communicating devices.

Such instances in the north's schools almost doubled from 25 in 2017 to 40 last year. All 40 involved mobile phones and most resulted in a loss of marks.

The number of cases involving misuse of ICT also doubled from 10 to 20 over the same period.

An inquiry into cheating has recommended that all watches should also be banned from exam halls as more devices can become connected to the internet.

It was warned that invigilators increasingly could not tell the difference between smartwatches and traditional watches.

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