Eton College pupils told to hand over their mobile phones at night
Boys in their first year at Eton College have been ordered to hand over their mobile phones at night because of concerns about the pressures of social media.
Simon Henderson, the headmaster at the boys’ boarding school, said the policy had also been introduced to reduce the amount of screen time pupils are exposed to and improve their sleep.
The policy has been a success and the college – which has educated the sons of the rich and powerful including 19 British prime ministers – is considering extending it to older boys.
Speaking about the challenges social media poses for young people on Wednesday at a Girls’ Day School Trust conference, Henderson said: “Being a teenager has always been hard, but I do think it’s becoming harder. Social media plays a part of in that.”
He said it was important to talk to young people about the issues, but added: “There is a place for taking their phones and things off them. Sometimes parents and schools are reluctant to do that.
“We’ve done that at Eton. Our year 9 pupils have to hand their devices in at night. We thought there was going to be outrage among the boys but actually they really welcomed it.”
So far the policy only applies to 13- and 14-year-old boys in year 9, which is the first year at the £38,000-a-year school, but after seeing the positive reaction of the boys and its impact on wellbeing the college is thinking about rolling it out to year 10s.
Pupils hand in all electronic devices to staff at 9.30pm and pick them up the next morning at about 7.45am, though exceptions can be made. Henderson said: “We expected boys to complain, but most say that they welcome it as they appreciate having the break and not feeling the social pressure to read and reply to messages instantly. They think it improves their sleep.
“Parents know it is happening and so are encouraged to call outside of those times. If there is a particular pastoral reason why a boy should have it overnight – for example homesickness – then the house master can give permission on a case by case basis.”
There is widespread concern about the impact of social media on young people’s mental health. According to Ofcom, 83% of 12- to 15-year-olds have a smartphone and half of all children have a social media profile by age 12.
Schools are increasingly introducing mobile phone bans or measures to restrict their use in classrooms but at home parents often struggle to separate their teenagers from their mobiles, even at night.
Henderson was also asked about the revised GCSEs, which are being tested for the first time this summer with the new 9-1 grading system following the introduction last year of updated English and maths exams.
There have been fears in the sector that the new exams, which are designed to be more rigorous and are tested at the end of the course rather than through coursework or modular assessment, will leave many high-achieving pupils in despair because, though they might have expected to get straight As and A*s in the old exams, they are far less likely to get straight 9s.
Henderson said it was a new system that would take a bit of getting used to. “We’ve made it very clear to our boys and parents that you can’t compare the old system directly with the new system and they should not be getting straight 9s.
“Boys at our school are a competitive bunch and they want to do well as they can, but I hope that they are not sitting stressing about a 9 , an 8, a 7 or a 6. I think it’s about the conversations you have around it.”