It’s breaktime at a middle school in rural Brittany, and huddles of teenagers are chatting in the playground. Two 15-year-olds sit reading novels, while others kick footballs or play chase. One boy does some press-ups.
The hum of conversation and flurry of movement contrasts with most other French secondary schools, where playgrounds can be eerily silent as pupils stare at their mobile phones. In La Gautrais, no one looks at Instagram, Snapchat or YouTube. Here mobile phones have been banned. Few seem to miss them.
“I do have a phone, but I leave it at home and don’t really think about it much,” shrugged one 14-year-old girl in a denim jacket. “I don’t rush to check it after school. When I get home, first I’ll have a snack, I’ll chat to my mum, do some homework, then I might look at my phone. But only if I’m waiting for an important message.”
Two of her friends don’t have mobile phones at all. “We don’t really need phones because we’re always chatting to each other in person, we chat the whole time – too much probably – and we’re really good friends,” one said.
La Gautrais middle school in the village of Plouasne banned the use of mobile phone on its grounds four years ago, long before the French president, Emmanuel Macron, made an election promise to outlaw children’s phones in schools in an attempt to “detox” teenagers increasingly addicted to screens.
From September, all nursery, primary and middle schools will ban mobile phone use. More than 90% of 12- to 17-year-olds are believed to own a mobile phone in France, and children were already banned from unauthorised use in class. But , as in the UK, it was left to headteachers to decide whether to limit phones in breaktime.