Belfast school cracks down on mobile phones to help tackle cyber-bullying
Belfast Royal Academy has launched a new mobile phone policy to help deal with cyber-bullying and stop pupils filming teachers in class.
In a letter to parents on the new policy the school said it had been introduced "in a response to an increase in negative behaviours".
Phone use has been heavily restricted by the school with those students below sixth form being required to keep their phone switched off and out of sight at all times.
If students are seen using their phone or displaying them publicly they can be confiscated by staff for up to one week.
Students are also prohibited from using the phones on school buses and visits to sports venues or school trips.
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Sixth form pupils are permitted to use phones before school, at break time, lunch time and during their recreational periods as the school recognises they "are preparing for independent study at university".
Principal Hilary Woods in her letter to parents said the policy was combating negative behaviours including "pupils taking photographs and videos of other pupils during the school day and posting them to social media in an attempt to humiliate them" as well as pupils videoing teachers in class and uploading to social media.
Other issues included preventing exam cheating and allowing pupils to create WhatsApp groups to make hurtful or inappropriate comments about others.
Mrs Woods also expressed concern about the "impact of social media on young people's wellbeing".
Since the policy was introduced at the beginning of term the head teacher said staff had reported a significant reduction in disruption to lessons and no incidents involving mobile phones being used to take photographs or videos of school pupils.
She acknowledged that a number of parents had raised concerns around being able to contact their children but said that the "vast majority" are very supportive of the new policy.
Parents with concerns around contacting their children are advised to buy a basic pay-as-you-go phone with no camera or internet which could be used by pupils if parents are concerned about their journey to and from school.
However it will still be confiscated if used during class.
"It is noteworthy that in a school population of 1,450 pupils, since this policy has been introduced, we have only had three queries which were related to the journey to and from school which is why we sought out the recommendation regarding the pay-as-you-go phone," Mrs Woods said in a statement.
"This policy has been adopted in response to our concerns about pupils’ wellbeing."
A number of parents of BRA students have got in touch with the school to praise the policy in correspondence seen by the Belfast Telegraph.
"We hear so much about the negative impact of social media misuse and bullying on young people and their mental health. It is paramount children are protected in school and the rules are clear and well thought out. I am delighted the school has taken this stance. I believe my daughter is now in a safer and protected environment," one parent wrote.
Another parent said the new policy was "excellent".
"It has the welfare and safeguarding of pupils at its core. I wish to confirm my full support for the new policy," the parent wrote.
Belfast Telegraph Digital