Technology can foil happy slapping

10th February 2006 at 00:00
"Happy slapping" and bullying by text could be tackled by new technology limiting the use of mobiles in schools, if ministers and phone firms were prepared to fund it, an MP is claiming.

Systems in US and Japanese schools can block the use of mobiles in certain situations, and free them up for more positive, educational purposes says Adrian Bailey. Now he wants them installed in British schools.

The MP for West Bromwich West says it is possible to have all pupils'

mobiles registered with a central system administered by the school that can de-activate them during lessons but allow them to be switched on at breaks.

The systems can also block calls from unwanted sources and restrict the use of certain phone functions such as cameras.

Mr Bailey wants the system to be trialled in six secondaries and their feeder primaries, which he estimates would cost about pound;1.5 million to run for a year. "For children who wish to bully others, the technology provides a new dimension to their capacity for intimidation," he told the House of Commons last week.

Arthur Graley, head at St Chad's RC school, in Runcorn, has introduced a school-wide mobile ban and is considering buying a blocking system following a pupil assault on a teacher that was filmed by another pupil using a mobile.

Last week a British Educational Communications Technology Agency survey found that one in 10 teachers regularly encountered pupils misusing mobile phones. Six per cent said they dealt with at least 21 incidents in an average month. Last year NCH, the children's charity, reported that 14 per cent of children had been bullied by text message, half of which were sent in schools.

The Steer taskforce on behaviour wrote of its deep concern at the impact of mobiles on behaviour when it reported in November but stopped short of recommending blocking systems.

But Mr Bailey says such systems also let schools use mobiles for educational purposes.

Jonathan Harrison, managing director of Baroni Ltd, a technology consultancy, said a system could be introduced for an annual cost of pound;1.50 per handset.

Jacqui Smith, schools minister, responding in the Commons, said that mobile firms were addressing child protection issues and said that blocking technology might interfere with communication between staff who used mobiles to respond to discipline problems.

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