It's a hot topic amongst parents and teachers - should we let our children have mobile phones in school?
Do we embrace technology, as we are constantly reminded that ‘it is the future’, or should we be banning mobile phones completely from the school site? Is there a happy medium?
We think about and debate this issue quite a lot here at Surrey Mummy, so we were very interested when one headteacher offered to write his thoughts and experiences about mobile phones for us.
Steve Gardner, head of Lower School at King Edward’s in Witley, was dealing with mobile phone misuse regularly and found that banning them had positive results.
He writes: "We are a co-educational, independent day and boarding school for 11-18 year olds. In my first term leading Queen Mary House (the Lower School boarding and day house), every pastoral issue that I had to deal with was eventually tracked back to some form of misuse of mobile phones. So what did I do? I reacted (yes, you can’t always predict and be proactive). With a unanimous agreement from my colleagues and also the parents of the young people in my care (you’ve got to love SurveyMonkey!), we rewrote the mobile phone policy and clamped down on the possible usage during the school day. In fact, we went even further than this by limiting the amount of time that our boarders could use their phones to a mere 50 minutes per day, after school. The result? A complete eradication of pastoral issues starting from poor and naive use of social media.
"What was most striking was that during the first week of the ‘ban’, our young people really struggled to know what to do in their spare time. They resorted to animalistic-type behaviour. Nothing serious, but it was very clear that they had forgotten how to ‘play’. Absolutely baffling and one hundred per cent interesting. What came out of this was that we were instantly reminded that the young people in our care were just that - YOUNG PEOPLE. They have had technology thrust at them at such a young age and it turns out that they are exceptionally talented at using it. What they do not have, however, is the maturity to handle (and sometimes understand) the responsibilities and dangers that come with such a weapon.
"Like every other school in the country, we educate our pupils, parents and staff on appropriate mobile phone protocol – covering acceptable use, cyber-bullying, keeping yourself safe online etc. And this is all incredibly important and a massive part of our duty of care. However, we cannot forget that the ever-changing world is forcing our students to act beyond their years, in so many ways. Personally, I would have hated growing up as an 11-year-old in the current day. Faced with so many e-dangers, a constant demand to be better and a persistent reminder, of what we should look like, how we should behave and what we should aspire to be. In fact, I decided to run a series of workshops with my young people, pointing out to them that the world often forces utterly inaccurate messages their way. They were stunned by what they were seeing – you only need to watch a couple of TV adverts to understand what I mean (L’Oreal, featuring Cheryl Cole; Lynx with its Angels Will Fall campaign). Utterly immoral and false.
"So, what action do we need to take? A partial ban on mobile technology in the early years of senior school life? Yes. Continued and vamped up education from 11-18? Definitely. A staggered introduction of mobile phones on the school site during the working day? Absolutely – none of us are naive enough to think that mobile technology does not have a place in the classroom but I think we are all bored at having to tell our students to remove their headphones as they wander between lessons. I often get told by my colleagues that the Lower School students can be quite noisy as they move from A to B. A potentially valid criticism – but one that I am happy about. These are the pupils that are conversing with each other using eye contact and actually talking – not tap-tapping on a screen. Noise from my young charges is (largely) a good thing.
"Someone once said to me 'you’ll never solve this problem – they can’t live without them'. I beg to differ, the evidence is here. After the initial week of grumbles from our students, not a complaint has been heard. In fact, I’d go as far to say that we have removed a massive burden from our young students’ shoulders. They are happy, have learnt to ‘play’ again and are thriving in their academic life too – and they are certainly not suffering from reduced mobile phone technology time.
"Surely it is a school’s responsibility to provide guidance to its pupils regarding the need for appropriate and restricted access to cutting-edge mobile phone technology? Isn’t this just another vital life lesson that our children deserve to be taught?"