SENIOR MSPs want the Scottish Parliament to investigate banning the use of mobile phones in schools as the only way to tackle the epidemic of boys taking sexual pictures of women teachers and schoolgirls without their knowledge or consent.

Teachers are horrified at the levels of such abuse - known in the classroom as 'upskirting' and 'downblousing' - which see female teachers and schoolgirls photographed unwittingly by male pupils who then share the sexual images amongst each other. Such actions are serious criminal offences which carry hefty prison sentences and also see offenders placed on the sex offenders register for long periods. If such cases come to court an offender can expect 18 months in jail and ten years on the register.

MSPs across the political divide say a ban may be the only solution to the problem. Keir Bloomer, a leading Scottish educationalist, described the use of phones in schools as "an instrument of abuse", arguing that a French-style ban should be introduced where children are allowed to bring phones but are barred from using them in school time.

The teaching union NASUWT, which wants tighter restrictions on phones in schools, says women teachers are suffering harm to their "physical and mental health and wellbeing". Similarly, teenage girls are also left distraught by such abuse.

The union, Scotland's second largest, said the taking of sexual photographs, which are often posted online compounding abuse, was now commonplace, with teachers dealing with hundreds of incidents every year.

Existing rules only prohibit phone use during teaching time - however this rule is seldom adhered to. Senior MSPs said the current policy was leaving women teachers and schoolgirls at risk during the entire school day.

Holyrood's education committee convenor, the SNP's James Dornan MSP, who is standing for election as the party's deputy leader, said a full ban may be required. "This may be something that the committee has to consider," he said. Dornan added he hoped the matter would come before the education committee due to the gravity of the issue.

Labour MSP Johann Lamont, deputy convenor of the Holyrood committee and a former teacher, said it was "reasonable" to consider a ban. She said: "I wouldn't preclude a ban."

Scottish Lib Dem education spokesman Tavish Scott argued that schools must have full powers to ban phones if necessary. Scottish Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith also backed stricter rules on phone use in schools.

The NASUWT, with 7,000 members in Scotland, will seek the support of other unions at the annual Scottish Trades Union Congress conference in Aviemore between April 16-18 to tackle the problem in schools.

In its draft motion to conference the union warns starkly: "Schools should be places of safety and must be supported in tackling the problem of sexual harassment or violence towards either pupils or staff."

The teachers' union said that problems with phones had previously largely been confined to classroom disruption. However, it said the devices were now increasingly used as an instrument of sexual abuse.

Teachers leaders also warned of a “climate of premature sexualisation of children," from widespread abuse.

Keir Bloomer backed restrictions similar to those in France, where children are allowed to bring their phones to school, but not to use them until they leave, including during breaks. Bloomer is Chair of the Court of Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, and was Director of Education and later Chief Executive of Clackmannanshire Council. He was a member of the review group which wrote the Curriculum for Excellence.

Speaking of a French-style ban he said, "that kind of thing might be possible", adding that mobile phones have "become an instrument of abuse" in schools.

He was supported by Scottish psychologist Dr Mairead Tagg, an expert in male violence against women and children, who also said a French-style ban would be "worth looking at".

The SNP's Dornan said: "We have to look at all options. Clearly this is extremely concerning and we have a duty of care to pupils and staff."

He added: "If this can't be dealt with then local authorities may have to consider the ultimate sanction of banning mobile phones in schools."

Lamont, from Labour, said of a possible ban: "I want to see what teachers say and what the options are."

Scott, of the LibDems, said: "Every school should have the absolute right to instigate a policy of saying mobile phones are not going to happen. We didn't always use mobiles in schools. There was once a time when parents and grandparents used to have to phone school receptions if there were any issues.

"Even if mobile phones are banned in lessons, the idea that children don't surreptitiously use them then or later at lunch and break times is not believable."

For the Tories Smith said: “I don’t think there is any doubt that there is a growing problem regarding the misuse of mobile phones in schools, particularly in terms of potentially bullying.

"It is a matter for individual schools what action they choose to take but I do understand why some schools are looking at banning their use during the school day."

However, the EIS, Scotland's largest teaching union, and School Leaders Scotland (SLS), the headteachers' professional body, both opposed to an outright ban.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: "We don't think banning mobile phones is a practical approach because if they are taken off pupils and get lost there could be liability issues. Our general approach is to say it's an education issue."

Jim Thewliss, General Secretary of SLS, echoing the position, said: "We'd prefer to educate responsible use."

Although the taking of sexual images without a person's consent is illegal under the Sexual Offences Scotland Act 2009, the NASUWT argued that the law had to be enforced more rigorously.

Jane Peckham, the union's national official in Scotland, said: "There is absolutely no place in our schools for sexual harassment or violence towards either pupils or staff.

"Schools should be places of safety, but all too frequently threats of sexual violence and degrading comments are a daily reality for pupils and teachers. Mobile phones and social media have become tools by which this abuse is often perpetrated.

"Internet and social media policies in schools must make reference to protecting staff and pupils from this kind of abuse. It should be remembered that employers are actually failing in their duties under equalities law if they fail to protect women and girls from this abuse."

In response to the call for a ban on mobile phones in schools, a Scottish Government spokesman said headteachers already had powers to restrict their use.

The government spokesman said: “Any form of sexual harassment in the workplace, including our schools, is completely unacceptable.

"Employers have a duty to protect staff from all forms of abuse, and we fully support police to take appropriate action to address any such incidents.

“The safety and wellbeing of pupils is a key priority and an issue we take extremely seriously. We are working continuously with Police Scotland, schools, children’s charities and other partners to keep children safe.

“Headteachers can already ban phones if they wish to.

"We encourage local authorities and schools to think carefully about how to ensure there is no inappropriate use of smart and mobile phones in schools.”