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Nationwide school phone ban comes into force today. Will smart watches provide a loophole?

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The Government’s nationwide school phone ban is set to come into effect from tomorrow as students head back for the beginning of Term 2. But some principals expect “teething problems” and others wonder if devices such as smart watches or AirPods will provide a loophole to get around the ban.

A ban on cellphones in schools was one of the Government’s key policies heading into last year’s general election to help lift educational achievement, reduce online bullying and remove distractions from the classroom.

The legislation states the ban will impact all students across the country, including primary, intermediate and secondary-aged children.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says he hopes the ban will “turn around falling achievement – students need to focus on their schoolwork during their precious classroom time”.

“That means doing what we can to eliminate unnecessary disturbances and distractions.”

From April 29, students are expected to have their cellphones turned off and away from their person all day, including during breaks and between classes.

What does a phone ban look like?

Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (Spanz) president Vaughan Couillault says many schools have proactively implemented the rules since the beginning of the school year.

Schools will be able to decide exactly how they enforce the ban, but it could mean requiring students to hand in their phones before school or leave them in their lockers or bags.

Papatoetoe High School had not received a significant amount of negative feedback since implementing the “gentle ban” in February, Couillault said.

At this stage, the use of laptops at break times is exempt from the rules as they are connected to the school network and can be monitored more closely.

Couillault said other “notification-based devices”, such as smart watches, which had the potential to distract students, “haven’t been explored yet”.

“It all starts to get a bit complicated” when other devices with an ability to connect to the internet were discussed.

Spanz president Vaughan Couillault is also principal of Auckland's Papatoetoe High School. Photo / Dean Purcell
Spanz president Vaughan Couillault is also principal of Auckland’s Papatoetoe High School. Photo / Dean Purcell

Couillault said some schools had also banned AirPods as they were often connected with phone use.

Phone bans had been implemented in a number of schools for some years, he said.

New Zealand Post-Primary Teachers’ Association Te Wehengarua (PPTA) acting president Chris Abercrombie was “hopeful everyone understands the benefits. It’s a Government policy, not just a school’s”.

“Technology often goes quicker than rules; students will always find loopholes,” Abercrombie said.

He expects some teething problems.

“It’s going to be a big step up for some offices.”

Potential concerns

Unlike some other schools, tomorrow will be the “very first time” Huntly College has restricted phone use by implementing a ban.

Principal Rachael Parker said the school was anticipating some pushback from students.

“Our main concern is defiance.”

In terms of the practicality of the rollout at Huntly College, Parker said it felt like taking “quite a few steps back” because phones were often relied on as a teaching tool.

The ban will also mean teachers can’t use their phones during break times. Parker said the school’s ban follows the principle that “a rule for one is a rule for all”.

With all communication to students going through the school office, Parker said there was potential for miscommunication.

“It increases office workload, delaying communication with sports coaches and employers for after-school jobs.”

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