Southwark’s secondary state schools team up to go smartphone-free

A group of 16 secondary state schools are implementing a smartphone ban to tackle problems associated with social media.

Headteachers from 16 of the 20 secondary state schools in Southwark have grouped together to introduce the new policy, which will impact more than 13,000 pupils in the borough.

The other four state schools in the borough are working towards introducing the policy.

The ban aims to shift behaviours away from smartphone use – inside and outside the school gates – to help reduce the negative impacts associated with screen time and social media.

Schools involved in the ban are three Ark Academy schools, four Harris academies, three Charter schools, Sacred Heart Catholic School, South Bank University Academy, St Michael’s Catholic College, St Saviour’s and St Olave’s, St Thomas the Apostle School and The City of London Academy.

Jessica West, headteacher of Ark Walworth Academy, in Shorncliffe Road, said: “Many requests for stronger measures have been made of ‘big tech’ companies, but action is woefully slow and that leaves our children at risk. 

“We are acting in collaboration to support families and children in making healthy choices – we take our responsibilities to children seriously.”

Ark Walworth Academy, one of the 16 Southwark schools introducing the smartphone ban (Picture: Google Street View)

Each of the schools already have strict mobile phone policies which ensure their schools and classrooms are phone free. 

As part of the new policy, the group will support pupils and families to understand the downsides of smartphones and social media use, including mental health concerns, screen-time addiction, the impact on sleep and attention spans, access to inappropriate and graphic content and increased risk of thefts and muggings.

Secondly, the schools aim to work with families to encourage students to have non-smartphone devices – or ‘traditional’ mobile phones – until they are in Year 10 at the very earliest. 

This will be supported by higher sanctions for smart phones compared to non-smartphone devices should they ever be confiscated, alongside advice on ways to move away from smartphone use.  

The scheme is aimed, in particular, at pupils in Years 7, 8 and 9, although a number schools are adopting the change as a whole school policy. 

Many of the schools are working to make these changes ready for September, with others seeking to roll out the new measures later in the academic year.

Mike Baxter, headteacher of The City of London Academy, in Lynton Road, Southwark, said: “The evidence is clear, for our young people, the negative impacts of smartphones and social media use far outstrip the benefits. 

City of London Academy in Southwark (Picture: Google Street View)

“We hope to see a dramatic decrease in smartphone ownership among Southwark pupils and, as a result, an enormous improvement in their well-being and education.”

In seeking to make these changes, the headteachers considered a recent House of Commons Education Committee report which showed a 52 per cent increase in children’s screen time between 2020 and 2022. 

Nearly 25 per cent of children and young people use their smartphones in a way that is consistent with a “behavioural addiction”, according to the report.

The group also undertook wider research, including work by grassroots movements such as Smart Phone Free Childhood and publications like Jonathan Haidt’s The Anxious Generation.

The secondary headteachers are currently in contact with primary headteacher groups in Southwark with the aim to establish a borough wide approach to addressing smartphones.

A spokeswoman for Southwark council said: “Our secondary schools have decided to align their policies on mobile phone use to address the problems associated with them and we applaud them for this. 

“We are confident all our primary school leaders have children’s wellbeing at their heart when deciding on the approach of their school to smartphone use.”

(Picture: Pexels)

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