London Schools Implement Smartphone-Free Policy to Improve Student Wellbeing

A group of schools in Southwark, London, have decided to go smartphone-free, reflecting growing concerns over the impact of phone-based childhoods. Seventeen of the 20 state secondary schools in the borough have collectively taken action to reduce smartphone use among students, with the remaining three schools working towards implementing the same policy.

Addressing the Downsides of Smartphone Use

Headteachers in Southwark are focusing on educating families and students about the well-documented negative effects of smartphones and social media. These include mental health issues, screen time addiction, disrupted sleep, shortened attention spans, exposure to inappropriate content, and increased risk of thefts and muggings.

Mike Baxter, headteacher of the City of London Academy, explained the motivation behind the initiative: “We were prompted to collaborate after seeing first-hand the negative impact of smartphones and social media on our children’s wellbeing and education. While the issues typically occurred outside of school hours, it was often in school that these negative behaviors were exposed.”

Strict Enforcement and Support for Families

Under the new policy, any phone used by a pupil during the school day will be confiscated. Traditional mobile phones without Wi-Fi access will be returned quickly, but smartphones may not be returned for up to a week or until parents collect them. This policy will affect over 13,000 students, particularly those in years 7 to 9, with some schools adopting a whole-school approach.

The headteachers are also working with primary school leaders in the borough to establish a unified, borough-wide approach to smartphone use.

“Creating this positive change for the wellbeing and success of young people in Southwark is at the center of this collective drive,” said Baxter. “Children are getting smartphones as young as four. We could make a massive difference if every parent in this borough knows what every school says about smartphones.”

A Call for Broader Action

Jessica West, headteacher of Ark Walworth Academy, emphasized the need for action in the face of slow responses from technology companies. “Many requests for stronger measures have been made of ‘big tech’ companies but action is woefully slow and that leaves our children at risk,” she said. “We are therefore acting in collaboration to support families and children in making healthy choices – we take our responsibilities to children seriously.”

Positive Reception and Broader Impact

The initiative has been praised by campaigners like Daisy Greenwell, co-founder of Smartphone Free Childhood (SFC). “This move from the headteachers in south London is fantastically powerful and pioneering – never have secondary schools clubbed together to take collective action on this issue before,” she said. “We know that the younger a child gets their first smartphone, the higher their incidence of mental illness later on, so this has the potential to change the lives of a generation of children in south London.”

Growing Movement Against Smartphone Use in Children

Concerns about smartphones and children have risen globally. SFC groups now exist in the US, UAE, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Portugal. In the UK, parents are increasingly joining together to delay giving their children smartphones until they are at least 14 years old. In Bristol, 80 schools have started SFC groups, and more than 1,000 parents have made pacts.

“We are so excited about how this is snowballing organically amongst schools, headteachers, and parents; it was clearly a conversation that was waiting to happen,” Greenwell added.

By taking this bold step, Southwark schools aim to foster a healthier, more focused educational environment and pave the way for other regions to follow suit in addressing the challenges posed by smartphone use among children.

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