School mobile phone bans are doomed to fail, says leading head

Sophia Sleigh

A top London headteacher today said blanket mobile phone bans are “doomed to failure” because children sneak secret phones into school.

Stephen Lehec, head of Kingston Grammar School, argued that schools should instead teach children to use their smartphones responsibly.

The school, where fees are £18,000 a year and whose former pupils include Olympic rowing gold medallist James Cracknell, allows students and staff to have their phones in lessons as long as they are on silent.

It has also created its own social media app, described as a “junior LinkedIn”, to teach online “dos and don’ts”.

Mr Lehec told the Evening Standard: “You can’t be educating them in maths, English, healthy eating, computer use, sport and not be saying this is how to appropriately use what is going to be one of the major tools in your life.”

An increasing number of UK secondary schools are banning phones, with staff collecting devices at the start of the day and returning them to the students when school finishes.

Mr Lehec described the move as “illogical, counterproductive and doomed to failure” because children simply brought in decoy devices.

He said: “We know from the teenagers in our school, from parents with children in other schools and headteachers’ conversations, it’s relatively common that what children would call a ‘brick’ gets taken in and handed in. In most homes parents have old phones.

“Then a smartphone is kept on the person or in their bag and ends up getting used in toilets or changing rooms. Which means it’s not a visible use. It’s the forbidden fruit and pushes the problem into another area rather than addressing potential issues.”

He added: “I teach using my mobile phone — it’s my computer in my pocket. I use it to project things on the screen. If I banned it, what am I saying about double standards?”

Kingston Grammar pupils are encouraged to interact online via the school’s app, and teachers observe students’ online behaviour and interactions.

“We can see at a glance, for instance, who may be being left out of gaining kudos and what kind of posts are most popular, or ask students to reflect on the impact of their posts,” Mr Lehec said. “We think it could be a game-changer when it comes to monitoring student wellbeing and online safety.”

France recently banned mobile phones for primary and middle school pupils to try to improve pupils’ focus.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds has said the Government should not introduce a ban on mobile phones in schools and any decision should be down to heads.