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Blog: Mobile phones

Jun 11, 2012

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the increasingly embattled and controversial new Chief of Ofsted, has seemingly caused further upset by suggesting that the use of mobile phones in schools may be included under the heading of ‘low level disruption’, the failure of which to control his inspectors may use as grounds to mark a school down accordingly.

To be clear, he is not actually banning the use of mobile phones in schools, not having the power to do so, but he is exercising those powers he does possess strongly to condemn their presence in the classroom as distracting at best, and worrying at worst, with their potential to be used for bullying and for connection to the net, with its vast array of inappropriate material.

It is currently up to an individual school to determine its own rules on whether or not mobile phones may be brought to school, and on how they are to be kept and/or used if so. Ofsted itself has only these printed guidelines to offer, issued in February 2011:

“Mobile phones may be used in settings, as long as their use is appropriate. The use of a mobile phone must not detract from the quality of supervision and care of children.

Mobile phones have a place in settings, especially those without a landline, and on outings. They are often the only means of contact available in settings and can be helpful in ensuring children are kept safe.”

I only quote the above at length to demonstrate what spectacularly useless information it is. First, it seems to be aimed rather at the use of mobile phones by teachers in schools than at the issue of pupil usage. That, however, is a worthwhile topic in itself; nonetheless, is the repeated use of the meaningless term ‘in settings’ helpful to anyone at all who reads this? Whilst I can imagine that a mobile phone would be very useful for a teacher to have on an outing, what school ‘setting’ currently lacks a landline? And in what scenario is a mobile phone, rather than a teacher, needed to keep a child safe?

Sir Michael is focussing his concerns in particular on the use of mobile phones in the classroom, but is clearly of the opinion that they should be banned completely for use on school premises during the school day. Few schools currently impose an outright ban such as this, but it is fair to comment that once they are allowed onto the premises, teachers will battle to control how and where they are used. In an effort to circumvent the invocation of ‘human rights’ by those wishing to flout attempts to control their use, teachers have recently been given the legal right to search a pupil they suspect of having one on their person. But which teacher would welcome the opportunity to put this law into practice?

Should any student of any age need to use a phone during the school day? Urgent messages between children and their parents can be passed, in the old-fashioned way, via the school secretary. Recent online surveys have resoundingly favoured their total ban: 82% against according to the Lancashire Telegraph, 73.7% against in a similar survey by The Guardian.

It would seem that Sir Michael has given schools and teachers a golden opportunity to formalise their rejection of the obvious disruption mobile phones must bring to school discipline; surprisingly, however, the National Association of Head Teachers has urged schools to think twice before issuing a total ban on mobile phones on school premises, advising its members to think carefully about the implications of adopting such a policy, and pointing out situations in which they may be put to good use.
Mobile phones, then, would appear to be in our schools to stay; I do not envy those who have the job of policing their own particular school’s rules on how and where they are allowed to be utilised once they are there.

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