Why we don’t allow mobiles in school

First things first – I love my phone. I use it all the time. Lots of the stuff I use it for is practical: it’s an alarm clock to get me up in the morning; it’s a newspaper to read; it’s a weather forecaster to prepare me for the day; it’s my diary so I know what I’m supposed to be doing, when; it’s my satnav to get me to the places I need to be. But I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t acknowledge that it’s also a huge productivity vacuum: social media is lurking on my home screen with those tempting notification bubbles and there’s a little folder called “games” which tempts me away from what I should be doing with a little voice saying “just one more go…” You don’t get three stars on every level of Angry Birds overnight. I know if I want to get any work done, I put my phone on “Do Not Disturb”. And silent. In a different room.

Angry Birds

Three stars on every level. A sad indictment.

And this a major issue. Whilst a mobile device is an incredible piece of technology, and has the capability to assist and develop learning in and beyond the classroom, the distraction factor far outweighs the benefit. And this isn’t just my opinion. A large scale study by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics found schools that banned mobiles enjoyed a boost in the proportion of pupils getting five good passes at GCSE, compared with schools that allowed pupils to keep their phones. Richard Murphy, one of the co-authors of the paper, said that the distraction and low-level disruption caused by pupils having mobile phones in school appeared to be behind the results. He said “a strict ban on mobile phones does seem to be effective in improving student tests scores, especially those that a school might be concerned about, because it ups the number of students getting five good GCSEs.”

If we want students to learn, we have to ensure that they focus on the task in hand: learning. “There is plenty of solid evidence which shows that in order to learn, we have to pay attention. Again and again, research shows that when people are distracted or when they start multitasking, they don’t do as well as when they are able to concentrate fully on one task,” said Daisy Christodoulou, director of research at Ark Schools.

Another reason is one of dependency. There is a growing body of evidence that smartphones are addictive. A recent University of Derby study found that smartphone use caused distraction from employment, hobbies and studies, could increase narcissism and cause “real life” communication skills to suffer. As a school, we need to help young people develop exactly those “real life” communication skills; a day in school should be time away from the demanding electronic screens in our pockets. Essena O’Neil’s public disconnection from social media is just one example of how the pressure of life online can impact on mental health. One school in London even ran an experiment called Project Disconnect where students lived without their technology for a week. They reported feeling happier, reading more, and interacting more effectively. You can see their video below:

Finally, there’s the safeguarding issue. Over our wireless network we know that internet access is safe, monitored and filtered. But if students had phones – even if only at social times – access to 3G and 4G networks means that access to inappropriate material would be out of our control, as would the ability to take and share photographs and videos without consent or knowledge. Whilst the vast majority of our students, I’m sure, use technology responsibly, the risk to safeguarding would be significant. Besides, I’d far rather see groups of students smiling, laughing and talking to one another face to face at social times than sat around tables looking down, their faces bathed in the artificial glow of an iPhone screen.

Of course, we also have a duty to develop students’ expertise in using digital technologies and our curriculum does exactly that. But the learning comes first. Where technology is essential, or where it will enhance and improve the learning experience, we will invest in it, use it and explore it. But we must weigh up the benefits of new technologies against the potential drawbacks it might have, and in most cases there is usually a way to achieve the learning objective without a classroom of smartphones.

So this is why we don’t allow phones in school. I appreciate the irony of writing about this on a blog, and you’re probably reading on your phone right now. But I’d urge you – after you’ve followed us on Twitter, liked us on Facebook, and subscribed to our email mailing list – to switch it off, put it away, and spend some quality time IRL.

11 thoughts on “Why we don’t allow mobiles in school

      • Hello Chris,

        Have you considered a more contemporary approach than banning? Our school asks students to have their phones off and out of sight unless a teacher requests they use them for learning. This complements our BYOD policy. If they appear they have to take it to the office to get a ticket. It works well and allows people to exist in a contemporary world without smartphones interrupting classes. As a parent, if my daughter could not take her phone to school without risk of confiscation I would wonder about other aspects of the digital citizenship educational policies of the school.

        Liked by 1 person

    • at our school, student phones are put away and out of sight. They can use them after school.
      Teachers have their phones to communicate with the principal or one another; but I would say this can be a temptation at times – social media, etc.! But I use it regularly to communicate with parents – it is many of their preferred methods.
      from Napa, California, USA

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  3. Thanks for your blog post. As a parent of a year 7 student, I wish my school instituted this policy. I don’t understand why schools don’t do so. My daughter has not had a choice about phones since she joined the local secondary school. Phones are not allowed in class but they are at breaks and lunchtime. The impact was that when she started at secondary school, every break and lunch, her new and unknown classmates turned to their devices. At the one time that they ought to have been socialising and getting to know each other. She only had a non-smart phone and was embarrassed by her class peers. She didn’t want a smart-phone. She just wanted to talk to her new school friends. We know that electronic devices are shortening all our attention spans. The social engagement has improved through my daughter’s school year but given the adverse social and academic impact increasing research show that mobiles have on our lives, it would be great if schools could be a haven away from mobile devices. I know some consider that our children need to learn to manage their use of devices as they grown up in a connected world – but I and my daughter would have preferred that her school championed old fashioned human connectivity and learning above the easy choices.

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