Ofsted has warned that bringing tablet computers into school can be “extremely disruptive”, just as the watchdog’s own figures reveal that nearly one in three secondary students are now allowed to use their devices on campus.
Schools are increasingly turning to iPads and other tablets in their lessons, with many now providing a personal tablet to every one of their students.
Figures from an Ofsted survey carried out during school inspections reveal that 30 per cent of secondary pupils say their school now operates a so-called “bring your own device” policy. But the inspectorate takes a hard line on the use of such technology in lessons, and has called on headteachers to adopt a similar approach.
“Pupils bringing personal devices such as laptops or tablets into school can be extremely disruptive and make it difficult for teachers to teach,” an Ofsted spokesperson told TES.
“It is up to schools to decide whether they have rules about personal devices, but Ofsted would be supportive of heads who took tough action to make the learning environment better for children.”
The statement comes at a time when the government is reviewing the impact that mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, have on behaviour in the classroom.
Schools minister Nick Gibb recently expanded the remit of the government’s behaviour tsar Tom Bennett to look at the effect that mobile devices have on behaviour in lessons. Launching the review in September, Mr Gibb said that while technology could enhance pupils’ educational experiences, teachers had reported that “the growing number of children bringing personal devices into class is hindering teaching and leading to disruption”.
Challenges to discipline
He said that it was necessary for the government to update its behaviour advice to schools in order to help teachers and leaders cope with new “21st-century” challenges to discipline, “when even primary school pupils may be bringing in phones or tablets”.
Allowing students to use their own laptops and tablets in class means that schools can avoid having to supply their own, which is an attractive prospect when budgets are tight.
Miles Berry, principal lecturer in computing education at the University of Roehampton, supports the idea of allowing such technology in classrooms, and believes that many more schools will choose to allow students to bring in their own devices.
“Schools have two options when it comes to technology: they can either buy the kit or they can let their students bring their own in,” he said. “Budgets are limited and if schools are satisfied they can keep their students safe, then allowing them to bring in their own device and use it for their learning seems like such an obvious thing to do.”
Schools could then use their pupil premium money to pay for tablets or laptop devices for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not own one, he added.
Mr Bennett, who is a part-time secondary school teacher in addition to his work as the government’s behaviour adviser, said: “I have never said that I wanted to ban iPads from the classroom, but I do think teachers need to be really careful about why they are using them.
“There are behaviour issues when you ask students to use a device to look something up. It offers them a distraction, so teachers have to be super-aware.”
Figures released by Ofcom last month show that the number of young people who have their own tablet has been growing since 2010.
According to the research, 15 per cent of three- and four-year-olds now own a tablet. And 43 per cent of eight- to 11-year-olds possess one of the devices, rising to 45 per cent once children reach the ages of 12 to 15. Despite this growth, many leaders in the school system believe that the devices prove too distracting to students for them to be allowed in the classroom.
Earlier this year, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw called for a blanket ban on mobile phones in secondary schools. His comments were backed by research from the London School of Economics, which showed that schools with a ban on mobile phones saw an average rise in test scores of 6 per cent.
In August, Sir Michael reiterated his stance as part of a call for more headteachers to take up a “grammar school ethos” on discipline.
“Any headteacher worth his or her salt can stand up at assembly and say: ‘I am not going to have children chewing gum. I am not going to have children bringing mobile phones in. I’m not having children swear. I’m not having children answer back in class’,” he said.
But those who support using technology in lessons, such as the chair of Naace, Drew Buddie (see box), do not believe that iPads and other tablets should be treated the same as phones when it comes to classroom practice.
*This article has been amended. It originally stated that 30 per cent of secondaries allow students to bring in their own devices. The Ofsted survey states that 30 per cent of pupils say their schools allow them to bring in their own devices.
Be careful it doesn’t lead to bad behaviour, warns tsar