Derbyshire's Secret Teacher on why ministers shouldn't ban mobile phones from our schools

Gavin Williamson, the Education secretary says he wants schools to be “mobile-free to help ensure that classrooms remain calm, and pupils can overcome the impact of the pandemic.”

By The Secret Teacher
Monday, 5th July 2021, 12:41 pm

This means mobile phones could be banned in schools as part of a government clampdown on poor discipline in classrooms in England.

Now, I’m not as anti-Williamson as many teachers and I am certainly not pro Union. I was really disappointed with the teaching unions in the middle of the first lock down which enabled teachers to be yet again seen nationally as work shy and militant when teachers, led by creative and dedicated school leaders, were plotting safe and inventive ways to steer a learning path through turbulent waters.

However, where Williamson’s proposed phone ban is concerned, the Unions are right. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Talking about mobile phones is a distraction. Schools have very clear policies and will not see the need for another consultation.” TRUE!

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Should the government ban phones in schools?

Schools know the students and parents they are working with. All schools I know have a sensible policy. The majority effectively have a ban but allow specific use for learning under supervision and certainly allow phones to be used for contact in specific circumstances.

When Mr Williamson talks about the link between phones and behaviour, he is making too literal a link. Schools with well-established behaviour systems where a strong learning culture is embedded, will likely deal well with allowing phones to be used for learning.

I believe we would be crazy not to utilise the potential for learning with one of these computers in your hand. Instant research, group discussions, targeted questioning, instructional video, etc.

How can we possibly ignore devices allowing such a vast array of learning? We saw during the lockdowns the power of technology to support learning and there are numerous studies that support some of the benefits learned during remote learning. It seems ridiculous to be developing new e-learning strategies with one hand then banning access to students’ gateways to these new learning environments, with the other.

A more serious connection with mobile phone use in schools is that of cyber bullying. This issue is obviously not confined to schools – it is a far bigger socio-economic issue. To be seen to be allowing any form of bullying due to phones being used inappropriately during school hours does pose a difficult question for school leaders but, again, one that is best left with these experts.

But, what about the distraction of notifications from text messages, Facebook posts, Whatsapp, Snapchat, photo, phone call, Youtube alert and the rest? How can students resist? What about when rendezvous are arranged in the middle of the lesson? Inappropriate photographs under toilet door, the afore mentioned cyber bullying, cheating in tests.

So, should we ban phones in schools? Deciding something like this at government level is not right. The government needs to understand the positives and negatives of phone use in school and allow schools to access the findings of case studies.

Teachers are experts in understanding children. School leaders are experts in leading staff and developing learning cultures in schools. I say we leave this decision about whether to ban mobile phones in schools to the experts – the schools themselves.