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The BBC's Carole Walker
"The accessory they all want"
 real 56k

Thursday, 27 July, 2000, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Schools warned over mobile phones
teenagers using phones
Mobile phones are a popular fashion accessory
Schools are being urged to discourage pupils from using mobile phones because of possible health risks.

The Department for Education has written to every head teacher in England to pass on advice that children under 16 should only be allowed to use mobiles in emergencies.

The letter includes details of a research report which suggests that children's health could be affected by using mobile phones.

The research was published recently by the Independent Experts Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), chaired by former government chief scientific adviser Sir William Stewart.

mobile phone transmitter mask
Phone masts are allowed to stay

It does not point to conclusive evidence that radiation from mobile phones is harmful.

But it suggests that children may be more vulnerable to "any unreocgnised health risks from mobile phone use" because their nervous systems are still developing.

It also says that because they have smaller heads, thinner skulls, and higher tissue conductivity than adults, they may absorb more energy from a mobile phone than adults.

Phone robberies

The information sent out to schools says the IEGMP recognises that "there may be circumstances where the use of a mobile phone by a child can promote safety, for example, in enabling them to call for help".

It adds: "Where children do use mobile phones, they should do so for as short a time as possible."

As the ownership of mobile phones continues to grow, they are a considered a vital fashion accessory by an increasing number of children.

Many schools have already banned them from the classroom to prevent interruptions caused by phones ringing.

The number of pupils owning phones has also worried police, who have warned that children carrying phones could become targets for phone robbers.

Transmitter masts

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has said that the final decision on children's mobile phone use lies with school governors and parents.

But the government is hoping schools will bear its advice in mind when considering their policies on the use of phones in schools.

The guidance sent to schools also includes information about mobile phone transmitter masts.

These are often situated at schools - something which has angered many parents concerned for their children's health.

The guidance stresses the research report does not suggest that existing transmitters should be removed from schools, or that no new ones should be erected.

But it says that under the report's "precautionary approach", it recommends that the "beam of greatest intensity" from base station's antenna should not fall on any part of the school grounds or buildings without agreement from the school and parents.

The Department for Education guidance will be followed next month by a leaflet from the Department of Health about the safe use of mobile phones.

Teachers unhappy

Some teachers are unhappy at being asked to "police" pupils' mobile phone use.

John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers, said: "If they're a proven health hazard that's an issue for parents themselves, that's an issue for the manufacturers.

"Once they're bought, you cannot cannot expect head teachers to say 'You can't have mobile phones on health grounds'.

"What you're doing is you're asking head teachers to contradict the views and judgement of parents."

The mobile phone industry says there is no proof that using mobiles can damage children's health, and stresses it can have personal safety benefits.

Mike Dolan, of the Federation of the Electronics Industry, said: "Many parents would share my view that having a mobile phone is a very, very important safety factor for children."

The Department for Education guidance will be followed next month by a leaflet from the Department of Health about the safe use of mobile phones.

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See also:

30 Jun 00 | Health
Phone mast fears dismissed
11 May 00 | Health
Mobile phone research ordered
01 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Calls for phone mast crackdown
24 Jul 00 | Education
Students rewarded with free calls
04 Apr 00 | Education
Mobile phone school crime wave
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