Ditch the school bell to improve children’s mental health, experts say

The sound can ‘distress’ pupils with autism, they warn, as educators highlight the effect on asylum seekers.

Experts have called for the bell to be consigned to history over fears that it can provoke anxiety and “sensory overload” in pupils, especially those with autism or mental health issues.

Others have warned that bells could upset asylum seekers newly arrived in the country fleeing conflict zones.

Sally Cavers, director of Scotland’s additional support for learning advice service, Enquire, said that a bell could be “distressing” and suggested replacing it with flashing lights or motivational dance music.

Ms Cavers, who spoke to TESS during Enquire’s conference on schools and mental health in Stirling last week, said the volume setting could be very high and cause “deep anxiety” for anyone who “finds that a big sensory overload is too much”.

Her service was “quite often” contacted by people with concerns over the impact of the bell, such as children with autism.

A heavy toll

Guidance teacher Euan Duncan, president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said standing next to a very loud bell could be “startling”.

Playing music instead could, however, create its own problems. “Nobody expects a bell to be anything other than monotonous, but hearing the much-loved Pachelbel’s Canon nearly 2,000 times a year would send anyone into a loop,” Mr Duncan said.

Educators also called for sensitivity towards pupils arriving in Scotland as asylum seekers.

Glasgow-based Gillian Campbell-Thow, who was Scotland’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, said: “Bells can mean an awful lot of things to them.”

Roddy Dick, a lecturer in mental health and learning disabilities at the University of the West of Scotland, said it was a “difficult balancing act”: while some children with additional support needs found bells upsetting, others might like the structure and routine they represented.

Chris McGovern, chair of the Campaign for Real Education, saw the bell’s fate as a “red herring”, as other issues were far more likely to worry children: “There’s nothing more stressful than if you can’t read and write”, he said.

This is an edited article from the 18 March edition of TESS. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week’s TESS magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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