ONE of Nicola Sturgeon's leading education gurus has called for mobile phones to be banned in schools.

Dr Pasi Sahlberg, a member of the Scottish Government's International Council of Education Advisers, warned of the "disturbing aspect of having smartphones present” in the classroom.

The globally renowned Finnish education expert said the distraction was damaging learning, highlighting also the "extreme ethical violations" in schools with explicit material posted online by pupils.

Sahlberg spoke out after a Sunday Herald investigation about the extent of the criminal behaviour – known in the classroom as 'upskirting' and 'downblousing' – in schools.

Hundreds of female teachers and schoolgirls are being photographed unwittingly by male pupils who then share the sexual images amongst each other and post them online.

The abuse, highlighted by the teaching union NASUWT, sparked calls for Holyrood to consider a ban on mobile phones in schools.

Education secretary John Swinney has ruled out a blanket ban despite calls from MSPs.

Speaking to the Sunday Herald, Sahlberg said firmer restrictions would benefit pupils and teachers and that a “clear ban would be the easiest for everyone".

He said many nations such as Iceland had banned phones in the classroom, while France has also introduced an outright ban.

Sahlberg, a visiting professor at Harvard University, said: "I was in Iceland last week and visited a number of schools. Most, if not all of them, had a rule that kids must not bring their phones to classrooms or that they must be kept in their bags at all times."

Asked about the epidemic of boys secretly taking illegal sexual pictures of women teachers and girls without their knowledge, he said: "I understand the concerns that come from extreme ethical violations like posting explicit materials from schools or classrooms in social media or for private use.

"That is indeed a serious issue that must be tackled before it gets worse.

"I am also personally worried about the disturbing aspect of having smartphone present when we are trying to get something done.

"I have heard hundreds of stories from teachers here and abroad about how having your smartphone in your pocket and sensing the incoming messages vibrating distracts students’ attention from learning."

Sahlberg believes a blanket ban would improve the classroom environment.

He said: "Many teachers are upset that they have to serve as ‘police officers’ hunting down misusers and those who violate in-school or classroom-based rules."

Sahlberg added: "This all said, I think on one hand a clear ban would be the easiest for everyone, especially for the kids and the teachers. It is important that we teach children healthy ways to grow up with the digital world. Either way, something must be done about that now."

Swinney called mobile phone abuse in Scotland's schools is “deeply concerning”.

Last week, he admitted that school children today face a “very different environment” due to the rise in mobile phone technology.

Swinney, who is also the Deputy First Minister, said: “The report in last week’s Sunday Herald about mobile phones being used in schools to secretly take sexual pictures of teachers and schoolgirls is deeply concerning

“As Education Secretary – and as a parent - I’m acutely aware of both the upsides and the downsides of rapidly changing technology in a learning environment.

“Clearly the learning experience of our young people can and does benefit from the extraordinary array of information that is available at their fingertips.

"And clearly technology is always going to feature in the lives of our young people – we cannot simply wish it away.

“But we absolutely must make sure that they are taught to use that technology appropriately and responsibly – whether they are inside the school grounds or outside."

In response to Sahlberg, a Scottish Government spokesperson added: “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.”