Don't 'demonise' mobile phones, schools' leader urges

Private schools' leader says they can't be 'Luddite' or 'stick their heads in the sand' about pupil use of mobile phones

Catherine Lough

Schools shouldn't ban mobile phones - they should try to get pupils to use tech positively, says one private schools' leader

Pupils need to be taught how to use mobile phones in a positive way in schools instead of being banned from bringing them on site, a girls' schools' leader has urged.

Jane Prescott, incoming president of the Girls' Schools Association, said it was pointless to "demonise" mobile phones, and that pupils needed to learn how to use technology responsibly instead. 

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Ms Prescott, who is headmistress of Portsmouth High School, a private all-girls' school, said: "We demonise mobile phones.

"And there is certainly an aspect of mobile phones that is destructive – excessive social media use, being able to promote the celebrity culture, gaming on mobile phones.

"But there's also a huge positive with them, in that communication has never been easier, or better.

Should schools ban mobile phones?

"It's our responsibility in schools to show the positive aspect of having a mobile phone, what it can be used for in a good way.

"And helping them overcome those negative aspects of having a mobile phone."

Ms Prescott said it was futile to attempt mobile phone bans in an era of constant technological change.

"They're not going to go away, we can't be Luddite about it, we can't stick our heads in the sand and hope that time will turn it back, because it won't. They're here to stay.

"I am not sure that banning mobile phones actually, truly, bans them – I think that what [pupils] do is go and use them in spaces where it can’t be monitored, like toilets.

"Anecdotally, I do know of schools that have looked at phones that have been handed in under a hand-in policy, none of them have got a SIM card in them. I’d rather have an open policy where we teach children acceptable use."

Ms Prescott said that at Portsmouth High School, where pupils are aged from 3 to 18, phones were banned in social spaces such as the school dining room, but their use was permitted in lessons when needed.

"There are ways in which you can, in certain environments, get over [pupils] having their phone, such as placing it on the desk so everyone can see it," she added.

Discussing how mobile devices could be used positively in schools, she said: "They’re very good for photographing the board, if the teacher’s worked an example, particularly if they have a learning need that means that they can’t copy off a board so quickly. That’s a very positive use."

Ms Prescott said mobiles could also be used to photograph sports team lists so parents could arrange shared lifts.

And while she acknowledged that primary-aged pupils were probably too young to have their own phone, she said parents of older pupils appreciated location-finding functions on devices for safety reasons, 

One pupil at Portsmouth High School used her smartphone to film and produce a short film on homelessness. 

However, Ms Prescott acknowledged that the small class sizes of a private school made mobile phone use easier to monitor.

"I'm fortunate. I teach in an environment where class sizes are relatively small. It's easily monitored, the girls are well-behaved, they know that the use of their mobile phone must be for that particular lesson," she said.

Some prominent state school heads have called for blanket bans of devices within school. And last year, Katharine Birbalsingh, head of Michaela Community School in north-west London, called for a government campaign to shame parents who hand their mobile phones to toddlers.

However, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has previously said that schools should model appropriate mobile phone use rather than implement outright bans.

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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