Schools should decide cellphone bans, not government, principal says

6:35 pm on 11 August 2023
Woman writing and consulting a mobile phone on a desk at home or office

Photo: 123rf

Principal Ross Preece says a cell phone ban is working at Ashburton College - but should not be forced on every school.

National leader Christopher Luxon announced this week the party would ban the use of mobile phones in all schools if elected. The pledge did not sit well with Preece, even though the college introduced a cell phone ban policy at the start of the year.

"It has had a real positive spinoff, however, it was right for us. We consulted with our community and it has benefits for us. What I don't like is that it's becoming a political issue."

It was a populist policy aimed at winning votes without consideration for what worked at individual schools, he said.

"We decided on what was good for us and what we wanted to do, not what the politicians told us we should be doing."

National's policy would ban phones for the entirety of the day at all schools - primary, intermediate and secondary - in a bid to lift achievement, Luxon said.

"To turn around falling achievement, students need to focus on their schoolwork during their precious classroom time."

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said it was schools' boards of trustees who should be making the decision on whether to ban phones.

"Schools have the ability to ban smartphones or use of cellphones in school now, they don't need Christopher Luxon's permission to do that."

Under Ashburton College's policy, devices were unable to be used during school hours, including during break times, and it was having a positive impact, Preece said.

"Teachers report how much more focused and less distracted the kids are in class at all levels and therefore how much more work is being completed."

As the policy bans cell phones all day, both in class and at break times, it has increased social activity.

"Kids are sitting around talking rather than sitting in a group all staring down at their phones and not communicating."

It had also resulted in a marked reduction in pastoral issues at the school, Preece said.

"Because they don't have the phones on at the interval and lunch times there are no dramas being created or promulgated by social media.

"There are still social media issues, but they are outside of school hours and outside our control."

It was benefitting students, parents have been supportive of the policy, and overall it has meant the teachers were being able to get on with teaching, he said.

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