London headteacher introducing 12-hour school day to tackle smartphone addiction

A west London school headteacher has introduced a 12-hour school day in a bid to tackle pupils’ addiction to smartphones.

Pupils at All Saints Catholic College in Notting Hill, will be allowed to arrive at 7am and stay until 7pm as part of a ten-week pilot scheme which started this week.

They will participate in dodgeball, basketball, art, drama and cookery classes rather than going home straight after classes to spend hours on their phones, Andrew O’Neill told the Times.

He said he had found “some of the most shocking things I have ever seen” on confiscated phones.

Among the worrying messages he found were pupils blackmailing strangers and even engaging in catfishing - where a person pretends to be someone else online to humiliate an unsuspecting victim.

All Saints banned its 900 pupils, aged between 11 and 16, from carrying phones in 2016 but allows the devices to be kept in bags or lockers.

Mr O'Neill, who is a former headteacher of the year and whose school is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, said that a number of pupils were falling victim to online crime, including cyberbullying, sexting and blackmail.

He also said pupils were struggling with eye contact and making “real” friends, preferring to game online with strangers, sometimes in foreign countries in the early hours of the morning.

Mr O’Neill told the Times: “We have a long-term issue we need to solve,' Mr O'Neill added. 'If we don't we will have a generational problem with workplaces and society.

“Some children are so apathetic. They don't care about anything.

“They are buried in their phones.”

The pilot scheme will cost parents £10 a week per pupil, and is also being supported by Kensington and Chelsea Council, alongside educational charities West London Zone and Oracy.

The scheme is not compulsory and is for children in years 7 and 8. On Monday around 25 children turned up for breakfast at the school.

Mr O’Neill said: “We want to send children home with a bucket load of endorphins, rather than holing up in their bedrooms and looking at screens and not necessarily having those positive relationships.”

Mr O'Neill likened the project to a private school environment, where "a feature of that is receiving at the end of the school day time to complete homework or do prep, as it's called, and another aspect is playing sport and participating in fun activities.

"That's exactly what we're offering in the state system at pretty much low cost to families."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he added the school had many disadvantaged students and "the context in which we are working is really challenging - but our families are really aspirational and value the education that we offer."

The father-of-three said his children were only allowed phones without any social media apps installed.

Mr O'Neill added that he hoped pupils could experience a childhood like he had growing up in Barton, near Darlington, where children played outside rather than resort to online entertainment.

He added that parents had a responsibility to monitor their children’s smartphone use and keep them safe. A failure to do so should result in action by the social services or even police, he added.

Other schools have been working on measures to limit smartphone use among pupils.

John Wallis School in Ashford, Kent, introduced special pouches to lock devices away all day.

The pouches keep phones sealed until pupils unlock them using a magnetic lock as they leave at the end of the day.

The school reported a 40 per cent decrease in detentions and a 25 per cent drop in truancy since thescheme started in January.