A headmistress who wanted to use mobile phone jamming technology to stop children getting distracted in lessons has been stopped by red tape, after Ofcom warned that it was a criminal offence.
Julia Polley, head at Wensleydale School and Sixth Form College, in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, was so frustrated at students’ fixation with their smart phones that she told parents she would be blocking 4G internet at the school.
She wrote to parents explaining that matters had come to a head in recent weeks, and that she had decided to take action.
“I have now invested in some technology which will block 4G signals on the school site and I have improved the filters on the wi-fi to further restrict some sites,” Ms Polley told parents.
However, her plans were scuppered when she was informed by North Yorkshire County Council’s IT support team and Ofcom that this was a criminal offence.
By transmitting signals on the frequencies at which GSM and UMTS operations are conducted, mobile phone jammers make it impossible for a handset located within their range of action to make or receive calls, send messages or use mobile internet.
Such technology is illegal because jammers are likely to affect wider areas and other frequencies than those they are intended for.
Disruption of emergency and rescue radio services
They can also result in the disruption of emergency and rescue radio services in the public area.
Ofcom has said it is a criminal offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act to use any apparatus for the purposes of deliberately interfering with radio communications in the UK.
Ms Poley said: “Ultimately, all students need to be able to come into school feeling supported and safe and be able to concentrate on the next 13 weeks of study and revision.
“I will take much stronger exclusion action on any further unnecessary ‘social’ fall-outs which impact on school life and ask you to support us by monitoring mobile phone usage at home.”
A spokeswoman for North Yorkshire County Council said: “Many schools, as with Wensleydale School and Sixth Form, have to deal with the consequences of social media issues spilling over into school life and distracting students from teaching and learning.
“The school took the precaution of closing down the guest Wi-Fi which has greater access to social media sites and sent letters to parents asking for their support in trying to eradicate unnecessary and damaging social media use in school.”
An Ofcom spokesperson said: “We sympathise with schools’ concerns about mobile phones in the classroom. Unfortunately signal blockers can harm other peoples’ mobile reception, as well as interfering with the emergency services and air traffic control.”