Stricter phone policy at secondary schools: coordination with parents and pupils is crucial

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Since 1 January 2024, pupils can longer use their mobile phones in the classroom, except for educational purposes. Some schools have even mandated that pupils leave their phones at home or in their lockers. Behavioural scientists at Radboud University investigated what pupils think about this policy. Most pupils also see benefits of the policy, such as fewer distractions and more ’real’ contact.

Schools, government bodies and educational organisations are concerned about mobile phone use because it is thought to hinder school performance and pupil welfare at school. That is why the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, together with various educational organisations and labour unions, decided to start banning phones from classrooms earlier this year. The exact interpretation of this policy lies with schools themselves.

At home or in your locker

Following this policy, pupils must leave their phones, tablets and smart watches either at home or in their lockers and may not use their phones during school time. The Radboud researchers asked pupils, parents and teachers what they expected of this policy and how they are experiencing it in practice.

"Pupils are experiencing both pros and cons", says behavioural scientist Loes Pouwels. "We perhaps expected that these measures would incite resistance from most pupils, but it is actually going well." The pupils even acknowledged some benefits, such as being less distracted during lessons, having more ’real-life’ social contact at school and moving around more.

Yet the pupils also pointed out disadvantages of the policy, such as having reduced access to information and being harder to contact. They are still getting used to no longer checking their timetables on their phones, but instead on a timetable board. In addition, they can no longer contact their parents during school time, which is unhelpful if they need to make a dentist appointment or be picked up, for instance. It also appears that due to the stricter policy, pupils spend more time on their phones after school to catch up.

Advice for schools

"With this ’at home or in your locker’ policy, it is important that schools offer guidance to pupils who are finding it hard to transition to the new policy", emphasises Pouwels. For instance, students with problematic phone use or those who find it difficult to make real-life social contact.

Pouwels would advise schools that are considering implementing such a policy to first involve pupils in this decision. If a measure is applied without any consultation, it often generates more resistance. "Listen to their concerns and ideas and look for solutions together. Sometimes, pupils feel that an important form of entertainment is taken away from them if they are no longer allowed to have a phone with them. It can help if pupils are invited to think about other types of entertainment during the breaks."

Parents play a role too, according to the researchers. If rules for phone use at home become more relaxed while they become stricter at school, the policy may be less effective. If parents are involved in the phone policy at school, this will likely lead to a more positive outcome.