School phone bans have dramatic results

“At a time when mental health is such a concern for our young people, our school community saw the phone as a significant and negative contributor to student well-being,” he said.

Mobile phones are banned in primary schools in NSW, but secondary schools have the option to decide whether students are allowed to use digital devices during class time.

A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education said secondary school principals have discretionary powers to manage “the use of digital devices to best meet the needs of their school community”.

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“Some colleges have also chosen to limit the use of digital devices,” he said.

SCEGGS Darlinghurst has joined the list of private schools banning pupils from using mobile phones this year.

The school’s principal, Jenny Allum, said in May that teachers were concerned about the increased use of phones, “an apparent increase in students’ reliance on them and students simply being distracted as well”.

Parent group The Heads Up Alliance wrote to the department in July asking for stricter restrictions on mobile phones in schools.

“As parents and teachers, we see an overwhelming abundance of evidence of the harm smartphones and social media are doing to our children, including in school settings,” said Alliance founders Dany and Cynthia Elachi.

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An online petition calling for mobile phones to be banned in NSW high schools has gained over 21,600 signatures.

A 2021 survey of Davidson High School parents found that 89% supported the policy of allowing cell phones in school but not allowing students to use them.

Teachers have also backed the restrictions on the condition that they get a device to unlock phone pockets if needed for a lesson.

Rule said the new phone restrictions, which do not apply to 11th and 12th graders, have resulted in positive changes in and out of the classroom.

“Any time you reduce distractions in a classroom for students and teachers, there is a benefit,” he said.

The effect can also be seen by walking around the school during any break in class and listening to students talking to each other, he said. “In the playground, we no longer have students sitting against the walls on phones and playing online games.”

Rule said not all students were as excited about the new phone restrictions as their parents and teachers.

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“Like all teenagers in the 21st century, I wouldn’t say the students were jumping for joy about the new policy and the use of the pockets,” he said.

Some students no longer bring their phones to school, Rule said. “They explain they don’t need it and whatever’s in there can wait until they get home.”

Year 10 pupil Annika Hore said the restrictions were initially “very controversial”, but students quickly got used to not using phones at school.

Another student, Daniel Kenny, said students were more active during breaks between classes, talking more to each other instead of looking at their phones. He also said banning phones may have led to less bullying online.

Most parents support restrictions on phone use at school, said Davidson Parents and Citizens Association President Anahita Olsen.

“I think we just see it as a big distraction with their learning and as well as social interaction.”

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Chairman of the Northern Sydney District Council of P&C Associations, David Hope, said the organization supported restrictions on students’ use of mobile phones “because it is a major distraction to their learning and an opportunity for intimidation”.

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