More than 90% of Scottish lessons 'interrupted by pupil mobile phones'

Survey shows concerns are growing about misuse of the devices at high schools across the country.

More than 90% of school lessons are interrupted by pupils using mobile phones in class, according to the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA).

The union’s education committee said a survey of its members showed that concerns are growing about misuse of the devices at high schools across the country.

In the 2023 SSTA survey, 71% of members highlighted the misuse of mobile phones was having an impact on poor pupil behaviour and learning.

The SSTA wanted to get further information and commissioned a survey, which took place in February 2024 and saw 1,451 members responding.

Seamus Searson, SSTA general secretary said: “92% of members said their lessons were being interrupted by asking pupils to put away their mobile phones. 13% of members said half their lessons were interrupted but, more worryingly, 75% said the majority to all their lessons were interrupted”.

When asked about concerns surrounding the inappropriate use of mobile phones during lessons, members said:

  • 90%     pupils have detachment issues
  • 90%     Texting during lessons
  • 80%     Taking photos
  • 60%     Social media bullying
  • 46%     Answering calls during the lessons
  • 41%     Viewing inappropriate content
  • 35%     Live recording of lessons (audibly, visually, or both)

In addition, members gave other examples of misuse of mobile phones in lessons such as gaming, recording staff, listening to music, watching TV, contacting parents to make a complaint about staff, taking and hiding other people’s phones, anxiety (constantly checking), arranging meetings in corridors or toilets, use of snapchat or YouTube, cheating during tests, upskirting, videoing fights and bullying then sharing on social media, artificial intelligence friends and online ‘dares’, etc.

James Cowans, SSTA education convenor said: “62% of members saw the benefits of using mobile phones in helping with lessons.

“In many cases this was due to the lack of access to other mobile devices or poor connectivity within the school. 64% of members stated that wi-fi connection is variable to poor and 30% saying that they do not have access to a class set of mobile devices for use in their lessons”.

“72%, of schools have a mobile phones policy in place, to try and address issues but only 10% stated that the policy was extremely/very effective.

“Schools are struggling to implement successful mobile phone policies. There are several issues with implementing a policy such as inconsistency, legality, pupils conforming, no consequences, support from local authorities that need to be resolved”.

Mr Searson added. “It would appear that the benefits/advantages of using mobile phones are now outweighed by the negative impact that they are having on learning and teaching, behaviour, attainment and achievement.

Only 37% of members support a complete ban of mobile phones in school, however, the majority would support a mobile phone ban from the classroom and other parts of the school”.

“Mobile phones are preventing teachers from teaching and creating problems for pupils that are on a scale many teachers and parents cannot imagine.

“The mobile phone is the most important possession to pupils and is taking over their lives and their futures.

“There needs to be a concerted effort from the Scottish Government, local authorities, schools working together with teachers, pupils and their parents to redress the balance of what is acceptable mobile phone use and its place in a young person’s life.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The SSTA is right to point to the challenges associated with increased use of mobile phones in our schools, indeed this was a theme in the Scottish Government’s recently published Behaviour in Scottish Schools Research.

“While the Scottish Government does not have the power to unilaterally ban mobile phones in schools, we will soon bring forward refreshed guidance on their use. As a starting point for this guidance, head teachers should be empowered to take any action they deem necessary, including the restriction of their use.”

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