I was interested to read an article in The Telegraph about Brighton College’s decision to make all students in Years 7, 8 and 9 hand in their mobile phones at the start of the day. Teachers would lock them away and have them ready for collection between 4pm and 5pm when students are about to go home. Students in Years 10 and 11 then have ‘detox’ days when they hand their phones in for one or more days during the week. The Head commented that his aim in introducing this policy was “to provide time and space for youngsters… to look up and notice the wonderful and sometimes not so wonderful world around them, and to discover the pleasures of simple board games and physical activity.”
This policy and approach was music to my ears. When I joined my school as Head a year ago, the same policy was in place for girls in Years 7–9 and I have now extended this policy to girls in Years 10 and 11. Therefore, all girls across Years 7–11 have no access to their phones during the school day. They hand them in at 8.30am and they collect them at 3.45pm; no questions asked. I am sure that, like me, the Head of Brighton College will not regret his decision. I do not have to worry about phone issues during the school day; students are busy spending time with their friends at break and lunchtimes without the interference of social media and – I feel – are more inclined to simply get involved in having fun; playing sport, taking part in clubs, and simply being young.
Don’t get me wrong; this is not a policy which is against technology or one which is trying to be overly authoritarian. However, how many of us in our current schools walk past form rooms and see students sitting statically, staring at a phone screen? I want my students to get some fresh air, develop their social skills, take part and join in; and not rely on social media for their social interactions during the day.
Of course, not everyone agrees and it would be true to say that not everyone in my Year 10 and 11 was overjoyed with the change to our approach this year! Nationally, also, not every parent would agree with a blanket ban. Indeed, the Pew Research Centre study in 2010 discovered that 48% of parents use their children’s phones to monitor their child’s location when they are out of the house and, therefore, regard their child’s phone as an important aspect to ensure safety. Furthermore, other teachers argue that the mobile phone is a computer in a pocket and can be used to aid, not detract, from learning. And, with clear acceptable use policies and effective sanctions, their misuse can be restricted. There is, also, the convincing argument that children are more informed today on issues relating to e-safety so phones pose less risk to student safety than they might have done, let’s say, 10 years ago. Perhaps, if we remove the phones from the student, we could question whether we are giving our students the skills they need to make informed decisions about their phone usage. Are we preparing our students for their lives ahead if we simply ban them?
These are all powerful arguments and I understand them. However, I am more swayed by studies published by the London School of Economics for instance which found that test scores of students aged 16 improved by 6.4% in schools which had banned phones. The study concluded that, “We found that not only did student achievement improve, but also that low-achieving and low-income students gained the most… the impact of banning phones for these students was equivalent to increasing the school year by five days.” It’s a difficult topic and many parents have to battle with the issue of restricting phone use while their child is working at home. However, I am always going to favour a system where students have fewer chances to be distracted, to bully online or to text while eating their lunch!
With an American report stating that 50% of teenagers feel addicted to their mobile phones, (with nearly 80% of teens checking their phones hourly and 72% feeling the need to respond immediately), we have a responsibility to try and break this cycle. There is certainly, also, something to be said for us as schools encouraging and enhancing our students’ abilities to appreciate, quite simply, the art of conversation.