‘Our smartphone policy does not make us anti-technology’

Dr Andrea Saxel, deputy head pastoral at Cranleigh School, says a no smartphone rule isn’t ‘anti-technology’, but proactive in reducing the negative effects of social media on mental health

At Cranleigh we are midway through the second year of a project that aims to minimise some of the negative impacts of social media on mental health and wellbeing of our young people.

A year ago, we introduced our new smartphone policy in which year 9 pupils (including boarders) were not allowed access to smartphones in school, at all! Despite the incredulity with which this initiative has been received by many people, the impact of this on our school has been largely a positive one. I have yet to come across a pupil who has been genuinely annoyed by it. In fact, more and more I hear them admit that their lives are easier and that they ‘actually talk to each other’.

However, Cranleigh is in no way ‘anti-technology’; all of our pupils have work iPads that are controlled by the school and their usage is restricted. Long-term, the hope is that pupils will have a more instinctive understanding of the difference between a work device and a personal device.

Parental support has been overwhelming, and with their blessing we have increased the restrictions for our year 10s and 11s too. They are not allowed access to their smartphone devices during the working day at all but do have a window to use them in the early evening. It probably goes without saying that this makes the working day so much easier to manage for the teachers and, though ‘en masse’ the pupils oppose these restrictions, there has been no real drive from the pupils to remove them, even with the avenues of student council available to them.

Long-term, the hope is that pupils will have a more instinctive understanding of the difference between a work device and a personal device

To move forward in this area we have started a new project working with an expert in this field. Dr Emily Setty is an academic researcher at the University of Surrey, and her area of study involves the impact of technology on young people and their relationships. As part of the project, Dr Setty immersed herself in Cranleigh life for two weeks, spending time chatting to our pupils on an informal and confidential basis, and in groups as well as one-to-one settings, mainly in a relaxed boarding house setting. 

It was made clear to pupils that the only reason their confidentiality would be broken during this project would be in situations where a pupil was at risk of harm or abuse and, in typical Cranleigh fashion, they have been utterly open with her. Her research has given us much food for thought as well as a much better insight into the complexities involved in the use of technology in out teenagers’ lives. 

Next term we are bringing back Dr Setty to work with us again, but this time in small group co-ed workshops where we hope that she can help our pupils come up with their own solutions to the problems that their technology use brings them. After all, the most important thing any educator can do is to enable young people to learn how to recognise the behavioural patterns that can prevent them from flourishing and to work out how to change those patterns for themselves.

Dr Andrea Saxel

You might also like: Schools must develop a ‘preventive’ mental health curriculum

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