Banning Mobiles Is Old School

Reading time: 4

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
Read more about John Dabell

Should schools allow the use of mobile phones?

No they should not … if social media obsessed students are surreptitiously looking at the internet under their tables during class time. And what about phones being used for cyberbullying, happy slapping, filming fights and ridiculing teachers?

Signal Blocker

Hats off to Julia Polley, head at Wensleydale School and Sixth Form College, for trying. She became so exasperated at students’ fixation with their smart phones that she told parents she would be blocking 4G internet at the school. She wrote to parents saying;

“I have now invested in some technology which will block 4G signals on the school site and I have improved the filters on the wi-fi to further restrict some sites.”

However, her plans were undone when she was told by North Yorkshire County Council’s IT support team and Ofcom that this was a criminal offence. Another offence is disruptive learning – students deserve disruption-free learning every lesson, every time.

The Evidence

Image result for Britain in 2016 is the annual flagship magazine of the Economic and Social Research Council

Britain in 2016 is the annual flagship magazine of the Economic and Social Research Council and it makes for interesting reading.

One article featured looks in particular at the banning of mobile phones in schools and reports that pupils perform better when they are banned from use in the classroom. It refers to a study from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and research by Louis Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy who surveyed schools in Birmingham, Leicester, London and Manchester about their mobile phone policies since 2001 and combined it with results data from externally marked national exams.

“Ill Communication: The Impact of Mobile Phones on Student Performance” found that after schools banned mobile phones, the test scores of students aged 16 improved by 6.4% which equates to “adding five days to the school year”.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

As there is no official policy or recommendation set out by the DfE regarding mobile phone usage in schools, policies are decided at the school level by the headteacher and the school’s governing body, and this has resulted in a large variation.

In 2001, no school banned mobiles and six years later this had risen to 50%. However, by 2012 some 98% of schools either did not permit phones on school premises or pupils had to hand them in at the start of the day.

The study used the differences in implementation dates across schools, relating the changes in pupils’ test scores within and across schools before and after a ban.

The research showed that pupil achievement improves as a result of a ban and low-achieving and low-income pupils gain the most. The study also found that the mobile phone bans had a greater impact on special education needs pupils and those eligible for free school meals but had no marked effect on high achievers.

“Schools could significantly reduce the education achievement gap by prohibiting mobile phone use in schools.”

Upwardly Mobile

I don’t think the research findings will surprise many people and the evidence seems pretty clear: ban mobile phones because they are distracting and have a negative impact on productivity. Well not quite, as Beland and Murphy conclude,

“However, these findings do not discount the possibility that mobile phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured.”

The main issue seems to be that the unstructured use of a multipurpose mobile phone is bad news but when used with a clear purpose then they can be a force for good.

The total banning of mobiles doesn’t teach responsibility of use and self-control. Students know what they shouldn’t be doing so give them the choice: use it responsibly and for educational purposes or lose your phone for the weekend (with parental permission of course).

Fruitless Bans

Instead of trying to ban mobile phones, shouldn’t we be trying to make them work as part of a permissive policy?

This is what Professor Thierry Karsenti of the University of Montreal has found because banning is ineffective. He said students will find a way to bring phones into the classroom regardless of the rules and banishing the scourge was limited.

In Canada his research reveals that a growing number of school boards say they’ve had more success once deciding to stop fighting the technological tide and exploring ways to incorporate mobile phones into schools.

One school Karsenti look at permitted students to use their phones outside of class as they wished, but were kept visible and face-down on their desks during class time. He said this approach strikes the right balance and still gives teachers the flexibility to tap into the technology for their lessons.

Smartphones are here to stay and they do have a place as learning tools and as organisational tools. They can be used for research and educational apps and some apps like SIMS Student have been designed to help students so they can check their timetable, look at homework assigned to them, see how they are progressing against targets and receive reminder alerts. When a mobile phone is used in this way then students can be more engaged, informed and motivated and can start to use a phone more maturely.

Schools need to find ways to work mobile phones into the curriculum and help students be responsible users of technology. Professor Karsenti’s research tells us that schools have got to think differently because bans don’t work and demonising mobile phones is counter-productive.

Meet And Greet

There is one ban though that is perhaps worth having in place and that is to ban parents using mobiles when collecting their children. Liz King, headteacher at St Joseph’s RC Primary School in Middlesborough has done just that with a sign that says, “Greet your child with a smile, not a mobile”. Children running up to their phone-obsessed parents who are head-down in social media or writing a text message can never be a good thing, but it is a sign of the times.

Image result for “Greet your child with a smile, not a mobile”.


8 thoughts on “Banning Mobiles Is Old School

  1. To ban phones in the classroom, teachers first must know the motivation driving students to look at their phones during instruction. This will possibly help teachers understand how they can improve classroom teaching so kids will not have the urge to check their phones. Is it because they are bored? I asked my roommate the main reason she checks her phone in class, and she said, “I don’t want to miss anything.” “Anything” regards to news, texts, new Instagram or Facebook posts, etc. This motivation to constantly look at their phones is solely extrinsic; students check texts and social media to make sure they are as up-to-date as possible with all of their other friends, not because they like the callus that forms on their thumb from swiping through the Instagram newsfeed all day long. Perhaps according to the expectancy value theory of motivation, students value the outcome (catching up on all the latest news and gossip) more than the fact that they are tuning out their teacher. In other words, they value the information on their phones more than the information in class. To help change this, choice is key. I like how this article brings up the fact that students know that it is wrong to use phones, so teachers should give them the choice between using it only for educational purposes or losing it entirely. This will make them feel more autonomous and not like they are being punished. Banning phones altogether is a waste of time, as this article successfully points out, so the best option for teachers is to somehow integrate technology into the lesson. “Learning should be the impetus that drives the use of technology in the school,” according to Bitner and Bitner’s “Integrating Technology into the Classroom” (2002). Learning should always be the number one priority in a classroom, but the teacher should make sure that whatever program the class is using, the students find engaging. Otherwise, they could revert back to sneaking a peak of their phones underneath the table. Therefore, do not punish the kids and take away their phones, but allow them to use technology to better interact with the subject being taught. Take care to the fact that the program must target the right behavior – using technology could almost be considered a reward in some classrooms, especially if technology is not used all the time (Willingham lecture, 3/16). If students are not behaving correctly or misusing the program, other tactics will need to be considered.

  2. instead of this hypothetical “it would be lovely if students could use their phones” rhetoric – fans of mobiles in the classroom can just get on with it and then tell the rest of us how you managed to make a success of it. I can wait a very long time for some concrete strategies for successfully using mobiles in the classroom. As to the idea that behaviour can be fixed by providing more interesting lessons ! – not everything is going to to be more interesting than every single thing available on the Internet – sometimes lessons are hard work for the kids and they need help to focus – removing distractions such as chatty friends, wasps flying around the classroom, and smartphones is all part of the job 🙂

    1. I agree! I just had a few wasps flying around! My policy is to take them when I see them out but they are extremely resistant to that. I think to use it as a reward might be the way to go. It’s my worst distracting classroom problem for those highly addicted.

      Joan Anderson
      AVID Teacher
      Cholla High School
      Tucson, Az

  3. I showed my Y10s “sleepless Britain” on IPlayer last week. None of them after watching would agree to leaving phones off an hour before bed, to improve their sleep thus improving chances at GCSES?!!! They agreed they’d rather be in touch on Snapchat than clever. So trying to prize a phone off them in school would be a sheer impossibility I think?!! I’m devastated but need to find a carrot to dangle for them?!!

  4. I work in FE so find this issue even harder to deal with as there (for some reason) is a transition where students feel it’s ok to have mobiles in use during lessons which I’m 100% sure doesn’t happen in their high schools. I’ve tried a host of tactics such as apps to use in class for quizzes or research, letting them listen to music, creating audio/video assessments etc. But it all comes back to that addiction of checking social media or replying to a text. I’m running short of ideas and can only think of implementing a phone in your bag at the back of the room policy which sounds a bit too far when dealing with children who are entering adulthood. Any bright ideas?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.