Not-so-smartphones – government reviews mobile policy in schools

Ella Rhodes reports.

An investigation into how to train teachers to tackle poor pupil behaviour is to be expanded to cover the use of mobile phones. Former teacher and expert in behaviour in schools, Tom Bennett, will lead the government-commissioned review into how initial teacher training prepares teachers for managing behaviour in 21st-century schools.

Though many schools now use devices such as tablet computers to help children learn, teachers have reported that the growing number of youngsters bringing personal devices into class hinders teaching and leads to disruption. A recent study from LSE found banning mobile phones from classrooms could benefit students’ learning by as much as an additional week’s worth of schooling over an academic year. The report found that banning phones would most benefit low-achieving children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A 2013 survey suggested that the vast majority of schools have some form of mobile phone policy in place and one third of schools ban mobile phones outright, with a further fifth limiting their use in lessons. Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has already called for more schools to ban children from bringing phones into lessons – a major issue that Tom Bennett will now review.

Occupational Health psychologist Gail Kinman (University of Bedfordshire) is part of a team who have organised a BPS-funded seminar series on the so-called ‘Always On’ culture. She said focusing on mobile device behaviour in schools would be useful in preparing young people for the workplace. ‘As well as the need to understand how using mobile devices at school can impair learning, it is important to help children appreciate the etiquette around using mobile phones – what is appropriate and what isn’t.  Most university lecturers and employers have experiences of young people being unable to switch their phones off and who are engaged with them during important meetings and even during job interviews. The behaviours children learn in schools are reinforced and, if not challenged, will be used later.’

There is increasing evidence that a respite from mobile phones has benefits for learning as well as health and relationships. Professor Kinman said that although mobile devices are here to stay, there are ways of setting boundaries for their use. She added: ‘Parents have quite a lot of power in this, and they are important role models for mobile phone use. They may tell children they can do something while a school says they can’t – there needs to be a negotiated and consistent view.’

Kinman suggested that schools should involve teachers, parents and children in developing the policies around mobile phone use in school. She added: ‘Parents and children need to appreciate the accumulated evidence that constantly switching attention from a phone to a teacher will impair attention at school as well as potentially create problems for them in their future education and in the workplace.’

The final seminar on the always-on culture, entitled ‘The always on culture: Implications for work life boundary management over the lifespan series’ will be held on 11 March. Further details will be available on https://alwaysonculture.wordpress.com

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