It is a staple scene in films and TV dramas - secondary pupils, seated in rows, whisper to each other, mess around or stare at phones while a weary teacher vainly attempts to focus their attention on the task at hand. Suddenly the school bell rings and they surge towards the exit, as if released from prison.

Of course, such depictions have become a cliche. But there’s no denying the ubiquitous and longstanding place of the bell in learning communities. 

And though modern establishments typically use electronic devices rather than the handheld object of old, the use of a loud, clear and repeated sound to direct pupil movements - particularly between classes - remains a key feature of campus life.

Now, however, one Scottish secondary school is set to begin moving towards a different approach in a bid to create calmer, gentler conditions for children, young people and staff. 

Senior teachers at Knox Academy in East Lothian have announced a pilot during which the bell will only be rung to mark the start of the school day, the end of break and lunch, and the end of the day.

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Headteacher Sue Cook said: “We had a consultation with staff and pupils around a reduction of the use of the school bell, as we had read a number of articles reporting experiences of a calmer atmosphere/transition between classes and less crowded corridors. 

“We also ran assemblies for young people to explain the perceived value of piloting this for a month and then evaluating it. 

“While young people have not previously experienced this at the school, many had some understanding of how it may work due to their primary experience, where bells are limited to a similar pattern to what we were proposing.”

The move comes after concern about the “distressing” impact of loud and obtrusive bells. 

Senior figures at the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) said previously that the devices should be banned. They also warned regular exposure during the school week could damage a person’s hearing.

HeraldScotland: The school bell trial will take place at Knox Academy in East Lothian.The school bell trial will take place at Knox Academy in East Lothian.

Former SSTA general secretary Jim Docherty told a national newspaper: “It is clear many bells have been designed and placed in schools with no thought as to the health of those who happen to be in the proximity of the bells when they sound.

“The noise levels must constitute a significant danger to the hearing of bystanders, eventually causing damage to hearing.”

Experts have also warned school bells can produce anxiety and “sensory overload” in pupils, including young asylum seekers who have escaped from warzones and those dealing with mental health issues. Some suggest replacing bells with flashing lights or music

Leaders at Knox Academy, which serves Haddington and the surrounding area, said good timekeeping by pupils and staff would be crucial to the trial’s success. “We spoke about the historical use of bells and how education has changed markedly from 150 years ago,” added Ms Cook. “We also spoke about how managing timekeeping is an important life skill. 

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“A number of young people who responded suggested reduce use of the bell could support wellbeing in a positive way.

“Staff members were very much in support of trying this change. Our pilot will start on November 1st, with the evaluation on this being carried out during the fourth week.”

Education bosses in East Lothian said they were keeping a close eye on the trial.

Councillor Fiona Dugdale, Cabinet Spokesperson for Education and Children’s Services, said: “While the sounding of the school bell is traditionally seen as a ‘normal’ part of the school day, it is interesting to learn of new approaches which can potentially enhance pupil and staff experience.

“The trial at Knox Academy is an interesting one and I look forward to hearing about the results.”