Smartphones have been banned in some schools owing to fears over inappropriate filming or photographing. But at St Matthew Academy in south London, where they are an integral part of the lesson, deputy head Martin Nirsimloo starts off by asking the class: "Have you got your smartphones? Can you make sure they are turned on."
Keen to turn his pupils into "enterprising citizens" and for his school "not to be restricted by the traditional curriculum", he has signed the school up for the Apps for Good project, run by the digital inclusion charity, CDI Europe.
The project, which calls apps the "new rock 'n' roll", turns teenagers into mobile app developers, giving them the tools and training to design and build meaningful apps.
Fifty schools across England are taking part in the project, which was piloted last year. "The pupils find a problem, do the market research, come up with a solution and a business plan, then they develop a prototype app," says Debbie Forster, chief executive of CDI Europe. "At the end of the year, the 10 best apps from all the schools will be made and sold. I have had schools banging on my door to join this project."
At St Matthew Academy, there are 50 pupils from Years 8, 9 and 10 split into 12 teams.
Each team has a mentor from multimedia news agency Thomson Reuters with whom they regularly meet. They also Skype and email.
Schools from deprived areas that participate are subsidised by companies. Just under a third of St Matthew pupils are on free school meals, so each team has been given a free tablet by Dell. Pupils have come up with ideas for apps which include how to deal with bullying and a financial app to help keep track of spending.
Tips from the scheme
- Teachers have to be prepared for situations in which children know more than they do.
- It is vital to have the senior team and technical staff on board.
- Teachers may find it hard to overcome their fear of pupils using smartphones and struggle to convince colleagues why it is beneficial.
- Staff involved in the project have to be given time off to attend training.
Evidence that it works?
Mr Nirsimloo was inundated with pupils asking to join the apps project after-school class. "I had 200 apply. Once they were selected, they had to sign a contract to say they would attend all the classes. We haven't had anyone drop out and I still have 150 pupils clamouring to do the project. It has expanded their horizons and made them look at different career paths," he says.
Ofsted recently criticised ICT lessons in secondary schools, saying they are "not challenging enough". Graham Brown-Martin, founder of Learning Without Frontiers, which supports the Apps for Good initiative, says: "This project shows what happens when pupils use technology they are already comfortable with. The technology they have at their fingertips can be used to transform our schools and their learning for the better."
For 12-year-old Luke Kolendo, the project has already taught him how to build a website. "I would love to do something with technology when I finish school," he says.
And for Adedolapo Adesanya-Sharp, 13, the project has provided "the opportunity to do something big. It has made me realise technology companies have major people in them and are making huge amounts of money."
Approach - Children supported by mentors from the technology industry learn to design and create a smartphone app
Started - September 2011
Led by - Debbie Forster, interim chief executive of Apps for Good
Name - St Matthew Academy, south London
Type - Catholic academy specialising in enterprise and business
Pupils - 1,000
Age range - 13-16
Ofsted overall rating - Satisfactory (2010).