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Blog Post from Nicholas Weaver, Headmaster

Mobile phones in Schools – to ban or not to ban?
There is a good deal of coverage in the news today about mobile phones in schools. Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and former Secretary of State for Digital, has called on more schools to ban them (see this Guardian news story). He goes on to say in the article that he does not let his own children have a phone – they are 11.
I am with the Secretary of State when it comes to children under 11. I do not see the need for younger children to have phones whilst at school, but I am not sure that I agree that there should be a ban at every age group.
At Ipswich School, we spent a considerable time in crafting our own mobile phone policy, consulting with pupils, staff and parents. We considered, and rejected, outright prohibition. We feel that we have a responsibility for educating our pupils so that they have an understanding of how and when to use mobile technology appropriately in the modern world. After all, when they leave school each day, and when their school days are over, how will prohibition have prepared them for life with a mobile on their person 24/7?
Of course, anti-social behaviour with a mobile phone is not just limited to children, or to unpleasant social media posting. How many adults, who would be in support of a ban in schools, would be happy with a mobile phone ban in restaurants and bars? We should consider what message children get from seeing adults ignoring the company around them as they eagerly respond to the latest ‘ping’ on their notifications screen.
The thoughtlessly neglectful misuse of technology is highlighted in a video which was commissioned by HMC (Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference – the professional association of heads of leading independent schools), as part of a campaign entitled ‘Tech Control’, which we have shared widely (see the Video on YouTube). This prompted our deliberations and led us to formulate a policy which aims “to promote sensible habits of self-control and good manners, and limit anti-social aspects of the technology”. We think we have got it about right.
Broadly, pupils below Year 9 are not allowed to have phones in school, although they may use them at the beginning and end of the day. From Year 9 onwards, pupils are allowed to have a phone, but, unless directed by a teacher, are not allowed to use their phones for more than about a minute at a time. This allows for positive use of the device – for example taking a picture of a notice, so that the pupil has all of the details to hand later – but prohibits prolonged gaming or video watching, for which we feel there is ample time outside school. Pupils are not allowed to wear headphones whilst moving around school. Finally, phones are to be put away when any pupil passes through a doorway – the idea is that in a new room or context our responsibility is to the people in that new setting, rather than the remote connection we have through our screen.
We hope that our rules will make pupils think. We hope that the pupils will develop an understanding of both the positive and negative aspects of technology and learn to self-regulate, and we hope that they will be able to set an example to others in the world beyond our school gates.
Nicholas Weaver - Headmaster, Ipswich School

About the Author

Nicholas Weaver – Headmaster, Ipswich School

Nicholas Weaver is the Headmaster at Ipswich School, leading Independent School in Suffolk for Girls and Boys aged 2-18

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