Personal Devices & Responsibility
Posted on: 21st Dec 2017 by: Rick Cowell
Following the news about all schools in France banning mobile phones, I wanted to seek a legal answer to the question of responsibility regarding the use/misuse of pupils’ own devices in schools and colleges in various circumstances, including:
- Pupils bringing inappropriate content in on those devices (which is then seen by others).
- Pupils accessing inappropriate content online using their own mobile data.
- Pupils photographing / recording photos / videos, however inappropriate, and sharing them with others/online.
The general opinion has been that it is the schools that are responsible and liable for any misuse and results of any actions etc. – even though they have no control over the devices. There are Mobile Device Management solutions available, but there is currently no solution to ensure things like the above cannot happen.
This is partly a Data Protection issue, but also – and more importantly – a safeguarding issue, which is why schools, erring on the side of caution, “assume” the responsibility. These concerns are often stopping schools utilising what could be an excellent teaching resource – especially now school budgets are tight, and may not extend to providing any/enough devices of their own.
Forbes Solicitors have completed several projects for the ANME since it formed, so I contacted them and asked if they could provide an official response from a legal perspective.
Response from Forbes Solicitors:
Our view is that schools would not legally be responsible for a pupils’ misuse of their mobile phone whilst the pupil is using their own mobile data and provided the school had robust rules and policies which were communicated to pupils, parents and staff and were enforced. It is arguable that if the misuse occurred whilst using schools’ Wi-Fi, the school could potentially be seen as facilitating the misuse and therefore could potentially be held liable.
Whilst mobile phones do pose a variety of risks from data protection to safeguarding, they can be a useful tool and schools can be reluctant to ban them completely. In any event, our view is that a total ban would be difficult to enforce – it is difficult enough in a prison with a wide range of security measures, let alone in a school. Therefore a sensible approach to adopt would to have a clear set of rules and a policy outlining when phones can be used and what actions are not acceptable. Such rules and policies must be communicated clearly and breaches dealt with accordingly.
I hope this assists, if you want to discuss further please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Obviously no solutions can alleviate general disciplinary issues that arise as a result of allowing pupils to bring their devices in and use them in school, but hopefully this response should go a long way to reassure school leaders they are not responsible for any more serious incidents that may occur as long as there is a strict policy with clear rules ideally signed by each pupil who brings a device onto the premises.
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