A group of MSPs is calling for Holyrood to investigate the banning of mobile phones within Scotland’s schools, to tackle the growing problem of boys taking non-consensual ‘upskirt’ and ‘downblouse’ pictures of pupils and teachers.
Male pupils are taking photographs of fellow pupils and staff members with mobile phone cameras and sharing them, often online. These actions have been criminal offences in Scotland since 2009, with England and Wales now contemplating similar legislation.
Perpetrators can be placed on the sexual offenders register for up to 10 years, as well as serving up to 18 months in jail, despite this the problem seems to be growing in schools, with one teaching union saying that teachers are dealing with ‘hundreds of incidents’ every year.
Existing rules prohibit phone use in the classroom, however enforcement of the rule can be inconsistent and sporadic. Some MSPs told the Herald the current policy leaves female teachers and pupils at risk across the rest of the school day.
Harm To Physical and Mental Health and Wellbeing
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) which has 7,000 members in Scotland, said female teachers teachers are suffering harm to their ‘physical and mental health and wellbeing’, from the activity, while female pupils are suffering similar levels of harm, abuse and disrespect.
The union is now seeking the support of others at the Scottish Trades Union Congress conference, which takes place in Aviemore in April, to tackle the problem in schools. In its draft motion, the union warns: “Schools should be places of safety and must be supported in tackling the problem of sexual harassment or violence towards either pupils or staff.”
Jane Peckham, NASUWT’s national official in Scotland, said: “There is absolutely no place in our schools for sexual harassment or violence towards either pupils or staff.
“Schools should be places of safety, but all too frequently threats of sexual violence and degrading comments are a daily reality for pupils and teachers. Mobile phones and social media have become tools by which this abuse is often perpetrated.
“Internet and social media policies in schools must make reference to protecting staff and pupils from this kind of abuse. It should be remembered that employers are actually failing in their duties under equalities law if they fail to protect women and girls from this abuse.”
It’s an Education Issue
EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “We don’t think banning mobile phones is a practical approach because if they are taken off pupils and get lost there could be liability issues. Our general approach is to say it’s an education issue.”
Jim Thewliss, General Secretary of SLS, agreed, saying: “We’d prefer to educate responsible use.”
However MSPs from all parties have stated that a ban may have to be considered.
Duty of Care
The SNP’s James Dornan MSP, the convenor of Holyrood’s education committee, said: “This may be something that the committee has to consider.” Dornan added that the gravity of the issue is such that he hopes it comes before the committee in the near future.
“We have to look at all options. Clearly this is extremely concerning and we have a duty of care to pupils and staff. If this can’t be dealt with then local authorities may have to consider the ultimate sanction of banning mobile phones in schools.”
See What Teachers Say
Labour’s Johann Lamont MSP, deputy convenor of the committee and a former teacher, said a ban was “reasonable” to consider, telling the Herald: “I want to see what teachers say and what the options are.”
The Liberal Democrat’s education spokesman Tavish Scott MSP said that schools must have full powers to ban phones if necessary: “Every school should have the absolute right to instigate a policy of saying mobile phones are not going to happen.
“We didn’t always use mobiles in schools. There was once a time when parents and grandparents used to have to phone school receptions if there were any issues. Even if mobile phones are banned in lessons, the idea that children don’t surreptitiously use them then or later at lunch and break times is not believable.”
A Matter for Individual Schools
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith MSP also backed stricter rules on phone use in schools: “I don’t think there is any doubt that there is a growing problem regarding the misuse of mobile phones in schools, particularly in terms of potentially bullying.
“It is a matter for individual schools what action they choose to take but I do understand why some schools are looking at banning their use during the school day.”
A Scottish Government spokesman told the Herald that headteachers already had powers to restrict the use of mobile phones within schools.
Keeping Children Safe
The spokesman said: “Any form of sexual harassment in the workplace, including our schools, is completely unacceptable. Employers have a duty to protect staff from all forms of abuse, and we fully support police to take appropriate action to address any such incidents.
“The safety and wellbeing of pupils is a key priority and an issue we take extremely seriously. We are working continuously with Police Scotland, schools, children’s charities and other partners to keep children safe.
“Headteachers can already ban phones if they wish to. We encourage local authorities and schools to think carefully about how to ensure there is no inappropriate use of smart and mobile phones in schools.”