6th March 2009 at 00:00
Problem: Mobile phones are banned in my school but pupils sneak them in and send each other text messages under the desk. What should I do?

Attempting to pry a mobile phone from a 16-year-old troublemaker probably isn't the best way to deal with a pupil who insists on smuggling their phone into school. But deciding how you should tackle this type of situation is not so straightforward.

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 includes guidance on confiscating pupils' property and the use of force. Before things get that far, teachers should establish a consistent and realistic approach towards mobile use in the school and this should be communicated to pupils and parents from the start, says Paul Dix, behaviour expert and managing director of Pivotal Education.

"Teachers have to be clear about what they expect and should see themselves as role models," he says. It's good practice to show the pupil that your phone is switched off, he adds. He also suggests taking a creative approach with "no mobile" signs around the school.

It's important to draw boundaries between what's acceptable and what's not. Sally (not her real name), a maths teacher at a comprehensive in Newcastle upon Tyne, says that although phones are banned at her school, her head once asked her class to get out their mobile phones so he could Bluetooth them, which sent out mixed messages. Parents can also be a problem. "I've had kids answer their phone in class and argue that they have to answer because it's their mum," she says. "A parent even came to the school to complain that they couldn't get through to their child who was told to turn their phone off when kept back for misbehaving."

Some schools employ a policy where if phones are neither seen nor heard, there's not a problem. "These schools appreciate that phones are normally a major part of a teenager's world and that it would often create a conflict if they were to confiscate them," says Mr Dix. However, in schools where an outright ban has been imposed and pupils are found texting in class, he suggests teachers give the pupil a verbal warning before confiscating the phone.

According to Dai Durbridge, an education lawyer at Browne Jacobson, the Education and Inspections Act observes the fact that different pupils may require different treatment. But confiscating mobile phones or using force should only be a last resort (see the legal column on page 31). The law says a teacher can use reasonable force to maintain good order and discipline in schools, but Mr Durbridge warns: "Putting aside the risk of injury to the pupil and the teacher, who is unlikely to be trained in restraint techniques, it is almost inevitable that this will lead to a complaint from parents and a breakdown in that teacher-pupil relationship."

If you find yourself with no choice but to confiscate a phone, consider returning it before the pupil leaves the school premises because young people often rely on them for security reasons.

DO .

. Make sure pupils know the rules.

. Challenge texting during lessons as you would other inappropriate behaviour.

. Give pupils a private verbal warning first, reminding them of the rules.

. Tell them to think carefully about their next choice as the phone will have to be surrendered until the end of the lesson.

. Set an example by switching off your phone.

. Display creative "no mobile" signs around the school to catch pupils' attention.


. Confiscate without giving a warning first, depending on your school's policy.

. Destroy confiscated phones - this would be hard to justify and could provoke an undesired response from parents.

Next week: Vandalism.

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