Most adults can't be without their phones. Much of their lives are carried in the small devices. Now youngsters are behaving in a similar way. So how do we get the balance right when it comes to their need for devices interfering with their learning at school. A Rotorua school, which initially had a relaxed attitude towards phones in schools, is now banning them, saying they are no longer a necessary learning device but instead a major distraction. Do you agree? Find out what other schools think and how pupils have reacted. Kelly Makiha reports.

A Rotorua school's decision to ban mobile phones during school hours has prompted a call for a nationwide ban.

Rotorua Intermediate School has announced pupils will from Monday need to put their phones in a classroom safe at the start of the day, getting them back when they leave at 3pm.

Principal Garry de Thierry said pupils had been allowed their phones when computers and Chromebooks weren't as readily available.

Rotorua Intermediate principal Garry de Thierry. Photo / Stephen Parker
Rotorua Intermediate principal Garry de Thierry. Photo / Stephen Parker

He said they took the progressive approach of allowing students to use their phones to access learning, get emails and take photos for school projects.

However, now they were just distracting.

"It was just getting out of control. We had parents ringing up before lunch asking them what they wanted them to drop off for lunch and, when a child was feeling unwell, often they'd ring mum instead of following school process and going to the office."

He said many pupils were constantly on their phones, communicating through social media and taking selfies, proving a major distraction to their learning.

He said the school had bought 25 safes at $75 each for every classroom and all phones would be locked away at the start of the day and given back at 3pm.

"It's been an expensive exercise but well worth it because if we are taking responsibility for their phones during the day, we have to keep them safe."

De Thierry said the pupils' reliance on mobile phones was mimicking adults'.

"It's become normalised behaviour to have your phone with you all the time ... but life will go on if you don't have your phone with you during the day at school."

Kaitao and Mokoia intermediate schools have the same policy, with students having to hand their phones to the office at the start of the day.

Kaitao principal Phil Palfrey said students caught with phones faced being stood down.

Kaitao Intermediate principal Phil Palfrey. Photo / File
Kaitao Intermediate principal Phil Palfrey. Photo / File

"They are not needed for learning, they can be used to set up fights and bully other kids. These kids are not old enough to know the implications of having a phone even if their parents think they are."

He said schools tried to be "progressive" and understood technology played a key role in learning but phones were just a distraction.

"I would like to see a total ban on cell phones in all schools. ... They are a huge distraction, kids don't need to be on them, they need to be learning."

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said his school banned phones in class. However, they were allowed them between classes.

"They have lap tops and Chromebooks which are easier to monitor. Cell phones have become addictive to some students who wish to be socially connected 24/7."

Mokoia Intermediate principal Rawiri Wihapi said they found most pupils were honest and handed their phones in at the beginning of the day to the office.

He said there were usually about 50 phones kept at the office a day, out of a total of 320 students.

Westbrook School principal said most of their children were too young for mobile phones but if any pupil needed a phone for any special reason, they negotiated with him.

"Sometimes the reasons are valid but in most cases it's not that difficult to ring the school and get a message to your child. That's what we did in the old days."

Rotorua Intermediate's move has received support from parents. One parent said on the school's Facebook: "Totally support this! I know my kid is easily distracted at home so can only imagine what it would be like having hundreds at school. It's all about their future!"

What the pupils say

Rotorua Intermediate School prefects are behind their school's move to ban mobile phones at school, but admit it might be hard getting all pupils to adjust.

Neve Allibone, 12, said she liked having her phone at school to listen to music during the breaks and she and her parents felt more comfortable with her having it while walking to school.

However, she said it was a good move to ban them 9am to 3pm.

"We don't need them in class anymore so it's easier to just remove them from the learning space."

Rotorua Intermediate prefects (from left) Luke Westrupp, 12; Tia Rangiahua, 12; Tom Yetsenga, 13; and Neve Allibone, 12. Photo / Kelly Makiha
Rotorua Intermediate prefects (from left) Luke Westrupp, 12; Tia Rangiahua, 12; Tom Yetsenga, 13; and Neve Allibone, 12. Photo / Kelly Makiha

Luke Westrupp, 12, said there were always difficulties with change but it was a good move.

Tia Rangiahua, 12, said phones were used to contact parents and vice versa about changes of plans for after school activities but there were plenty of other ways parents could make contact if it were urgent.

Tom Yetsenga, 13, said he didn't have a phone and he found other pupils at school were easily distracted by them.

"I have seen kids in my class playing with them and then having to ask their teacher three times what they are supposed to be doing."