A school is set to become the first in Kent to lock pupils’ mobile phones away in secure “Yondr pouches” during the day.
The John Wallis Academy in Ashford is ringing the changes from the beginning of next term in the hope of minimising distractions in class and improving behaviour.
Youngsters’ phones will be put in the same type of pouches as those used to keep mobiles locked away during some high-profile music and comedy shows where filming is prohibited.
Some parents have expressed concern at the move, saying not being able to communicate with their children could be a “big inconvenience” when after-school activities are changed at late notice.
But Damian McBeath, principal of the academy in Millbank Road, says he hopes the ban will help pupils concentrate.
“Mobile phones, while valuable tools, can also pose significant distractions in the classroom, hindering students’ ability to focus and absorb information,” he said.
“By implementing Yondr pouches, we are creating a more engaged learning environment where students can prioritise their education and engage meaningfully with their teachers and peers.”
From January 3, every pupil in Years 7 to 11 at the academy will be given their own pouch to bring with them to school every day.
Before they enter the gates, they will be asked to place their phones in the pouch and secure them by tapping them onto a locking base.
Youngsters can unlock them by tapping them again on the way out at the end of the day.
Pupils can keep their phones on them, once in the pouch, but will not be able to access them.
In a letter home to parents, the school confirmed the pouches will be checked at the beginning and middle of each day in tutor time to ensure children are following the rules.
Lorin Salh, a senior prefect at the academy, says it is something pupils could benefit from.
"When we are in school, we are here to learn,” she said.
“Phones are a distraction from lessons and what is happening in class. If your phone rings or someone texts, it’s quite easy to lose track of what you are working on.
“I am pleased that the school is doing something about that.
“Some of my friends need their phones for their journey to and from school, but this allows them to do that. I think this is a good thing.”
But one parent, who asked not to be named, says the academy should be focusing on behavioural incidents and would be better off spending the cash on staffing.
"I think the funding should be used on other things - no parent I have spoken to is happy about it," they told KentOnline.
"We can't see the benefit of it, as after-school activities can sometimes be spontaneously organised or cancelled and we need our kids to let us know via message.
"Otherwise we end up going to the school at normal pick-up time and they are not ready to leave, or they are left waiting around in the dark if, for example, their football session ends earlier than planned.
"It could be a big inconvenience for everyone and I think the school has more important things to worry about."
When asked how much the Yondr pouch system was costing the school, Mr McBeath declined to give a figure, but said: “It's an investment into children's mental heath and wellbeing. It's an investment into safeguarding children. It's an investment into children's learning.”
“As well as distracting them from their education, it also exposes them to online bullying while in class...”
There is a national ban on mobile phones in schools in countries like France, Finland and China.
The education secretary Gillian Keegan announced in October that the use of the devices should also be prohibited in schools across England.
The Department for Education (DfE) said: “If schools fail to implement the new guidance, the government will consider legislating in the future to make the guidance statutory.”
Richard Woolley, the safeguarding lead from the John Wallis Academy, said: “We recognise that mobile phones are an integral part of modern life, and we are not advocating for their complete elimination.
“However, we believe that during school hours, our focus should be on providing an environment that prioritises learning and personal growth."
The decision is also backed by Kent County Council (KCC), which is encouraging other schools to follow suit.
Rory Love, KCC cabinet member for education and skills, said: "I welcome this innovative approach from John Wallis Academy to help students focus on learning.
“Nearly a third of secondary students have been tempted to use phones in the classroom.
“As well as distracting them from their education, it also exposes them to online bullying while in class.
“I hope other schools may follow this example."
Some schools have not gone so far as to impose an outright ban on mobiles. The head of Wilson’s all-boys grammar in south London – ranked by The Times as Britain’s best secondary – only allows its youngest pupils to bring a “brick phone” to school, with smartphones being confiscated.
Meanwhile, the head teacher of Folkestone School for Girls, Mark Lester, said in 2018 that the devices are a “valuable learning resource".
He added at the time: "Mobile phones are not allowed in lessons except at the teachers’ discretion – when they can provide a very valuable resource for learning.
"Students can for example access video tutorials for extra clarification, they can use the phones for research purposes and even access multiple choice quizzes with live feedback to the teacher who can see how the ‘voting’ is going.”
Yondr says its pouches help students by enhancing their focus, improving engagement in classes and reducing anxiety.
Statistics on the company’s website state that 83% of all schools using the technology reported seeing an improvement in engagement in the classroom.
Around 74% saw better student behaviour while 65% saw a boost to academic performance.
The school is holding a parents’ information evening on Thursday to answer questions and concerns parents might have about the pouches.
It will run from 5.30pm until 6pm.
The pouches were used at Micky Flanagan’s latest gig, If We Ever Needed It, at the O2 over the summer.
All audience members were required to switch off their phones and lock them in the pouches during the event, along with any recording devices.