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'Schools should model mobile use, not ban them'

Teachers should allow mobiles in the classroom to demonstrate appropriate phone use, the general secretary of ASCL has said

Education minister Nick Gibb has suggested schools should ban mobile phones - but hasn't he got bigger fish to fry, asks Geoff Barton

Schools should let students use mobiles in the classroom at certain times instead of banning them outright, to "model" how to use them in a "productive way", a union leader has said.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that schools were too "squeamish" about mobiles, when they were a "transformational" piece of technology.

Mr Barton was speaking this morning at a conference on education technology organised by the Education Policy Institute thinktank.

Asked to name an example of existing edtech which could make a positive difference in schools, Mr Barton named "the mobile".

"The trouble is we’re too squeamish about whether we can or can’t use it, and it creates all kinds of issues," he said.

"Ultimately young people are looking to us to model how technology is used in a productive way. The classroom is the perfect place to be able to that with a mobile phone.

"I think the schools which are embracing the use of the mobile phone, for children to be able to look at 'how do you trust a bit of knowledge or not trust a bit of knowledge'... that seems to be one very interesting and innovative way that we’ve only just begun to develop."

Mr Barton told Tes that it was "very difficult" to have a "rational discussion" about mobiles in schools, because "immediately people weigh in, saying whether you should ban them or not".

"This idea that we shouldn’t take one of the most transformational bits of technology and deploy it in the classroom, just because we think someone’s going to criticise us for it - it’s really easy I think to manage that."

Mr Barton said that at the school where he used to be headteacher, King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, there was a policy of "no mobile phones at all are allowed to be seen around the school".

"That’s because round the corridors you want kids interacting."

However, he said pupils were allowed to use their mobiles in class at specific times decided by the teacher.

"It’s the older generation passing onto the younger generation there are times when it’s not appropriate to use a phone, but there are times when it will be.

"All you do then in the classroom, is you have a very simple low tech sign which either has a picture of a phone or a picture of phone crossed out, and you say to the teacher: 'if you’re going to allow students to use the phone because they’re taking photos of their homework, or they’re Googling, just make you’ve turned that sign'."

"We can set out ground rules for it, and what that then allows us to do is to teach young people how to use that technology."

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