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The Mobile Phone Debate

Discussion in 'Behaviour' started by sarah_dann1, Oct 10, 2016.

  1. sarah_dann1

    sarah_dann1 Occasional commenter TES Behaviour peer advisor

    With much discussion about the use of mobile phones in schools at the moment, I thought it would be interesting to gather some opinions about how this can be managed. Please do add your comments and suggestions about how teachers can best proceed in this area.

    The Mobile Phone Debate

    Old clunky computers that take twenty minutes to load, forgotten passwords for online homework accounts, lost scraps of paper containing vital revision notes…these are traditional classroom problems but is there an easy solution? In students’ pockets, perhaps their hands, or maybe banned and hidden in lockers, lie powerful and personalised computers. They load instantly, are adaptable, good for note taking in various forms, and kids weirdly never forget their passwords. It is probably true to say that most students now have a mobile phone, usually an expensive and up to date smartphone. The spread is vast even in primary schools. They know how to use them, how to access and share information through them and they love doing so.

    Whether we can safely and fairly harness the positive aspects of mobile phone usage in the classroom, without opening ourselves and our students up to dangers and distractions, is an issue upon which the education community is divided.

    Whether your school has a complete ban or you are free to make your own judgement, here are some issues and scenarios it is worth considering before you make up your mind on the mobile phone debate.

    1. Theft: The iphone 7 costs £599. Popping that in the blazer pocket of a twelve-year-old who has PE second lesson simply doesn’t seem sensible. Much as we wish it wasn’t part of our lives in school and in society, expensive goods cause temptation and when this can be minimised, it should be.

      Although many schools will ask parents/carers to sign agreements regarding the lack of responsibility over the loss of phones and other valuables, that won’t stop time consuming investigations and damaging accusations being thrown around.

      As an individual teacher, be very wary of taking personal control of a child’s phone. If your school policy asks you to confiscate it under certain circumstances, make sure you are clear about where you hand it in and who takes responsibility for it until it is returned to the pupil. Avoid a situation where you place it in a drawer and then leave your classroom unlocked. You might find yourself personally liable for that £599.

    2. Bullying: Modern children are hugely unfortunate in that it is very difficult for them to get away from each other. They pervade each other’s lives through social media, whatsapp, snap chat and multi-player games in ways that can be difficult to control. This means that bullying can follow them wherever they go. Although banning phones in school doesn’t eradicate these problems, and certainly many schools have developed robust systems often supported by community police officers to tackle these issues, it can at least ensure that offensive messages are not being sent from within the school grounds.

      As a teacher, it is very difficult to observe and monitor the precise use of a phone if you have allowed it to be included in your lesson. You can’t make children be friends but you should be responsible for the manner in which they interact in your classroom. Ensure you feel confident you can control that if you allow your students to use their phones.

    3. Time wasting: We hear the arguments about phones being a distraction and many of us, as adults, will admit to vast swathes of time spent using them. Students really don’t need any additional ways of avoiding work and even the most diligent will check a message if it pops up whilst they are using the internet to do some research. Time will be wasted and it is for you to judge whether that is still more efficient than waiting for the, perhaps limited, ICT available through the school. Studies suggest an average person checks their phone 85 times a day. Allowing phones to be on tables or even in pockets increases the chances that this is taking place during your teaching time.

      If your school doesn’t have a clear policy, be aware that you will also waste time on arguments if you choose to allow phones in some circumstances and not others. If phones are allowed to be in pockets but are meant to be confiscated if seen, that is also a potential time waster, particularly if the student will not comply and you are forced to follow it up. Issues around fairness can result in further arguments if you allow students to use their phones for say, listening to music, when some have headphones and others don’t. Ultimately, what may have been intended as a treat or some pleasant individual working time, often ends up with arguments and disgruntled students so tread carefully. In the real world, students will have to learn to compromise and collaborate so they need to be practising those skills in school.

      It’s worth considering whether giving students the chance to plug in and opt out of interaction may also remove their only conversation of the day. I have seen students watching films on their phone alone in classrooms at lunch time instead of making the effort, however difficult that may be for some, to engage with their peers. Whilst that won’t happen in a lesson, engendering an environment where it’s acceptable to have half an eye on the phone does nothing for the development of social skills.

    4. Exploitation of the teacher: photos taken, videos recorded, “evidence” gathered… We have all heard horror stories of teachers being put in difficult or awkward situations. There are times when a teacher may even be violated or harassed through the misuse of phones in the classroom.

      As a teacher you will be diligent about the privacy settings on your Facebook account; you will never use your personal mobile phone to take photographs of school activities. But what happens when it’s the other way around and a pupil takes a photograph of you which they then share across the school? What about when a child films you telling someone off and, with no context, uses it to ‘prove’ you are picking on them?

      You need to protect yourself as much as your students and allowing phones to be used in your classroom opens up a plethora of potential hazards. If you decide to allow it, you need to be vigilant and confident in the relationship you have established with those students.

      Ultimately, it is most helpful if one single decision is made by the head or management and then applied consistently across the school. Arguments for the use of phones, both as learning tools and as safety precautions when children travel alone, are valid and it would be positive to think that we could make use of the many educational apps and opportunities out there. However, the cons must not be ignored and teachers need to make their decisions, set their rules accordingly and be supported by their managers.

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  2. wanet

    wanet Star commenter

    You have ignored addiction to them. see for example.
    Isn't this an overiding concern?
  3. Flere-Imsaho

    Flere-Imsaho Star commenter

    • Phones aren't good for note taking.
    • You can't plan a lesson around every pupil having a smartphone and being willing to use it.
    • I don't accept this. You can choose to engage in arguments or you can expect and enforce a policy that pupils do as asked. This has nothing to do with phones and everything to do with basic behaviour expectations. The windows in my classroom open and close on my say so. The seats in my classroom are arranged as I see fit. Pupils in my classroom talk at certain times and not others. I don't argue with pupils about these things. Phone use is the same.
  4. sabrinakat

    sabrinakat Star commenter

    Nope. Not allowed during school hours at mine. Barely allowed at 6th form. NO. NEVER.
    pepper5 likes this.
  5. dmcgrath8

    dmcgrath8 New commenter

  6. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter

    Thanks for sharing this interesting article.

    I go a lot of schools as a supply teacher and often during lunch time it ismhard not to notice groups of students huddled together and all their faces are glued to the screens of their phones. I have often thought how sad it is.
    englishdragon likes this.
  7. circuskevin

    circuskevin Established commenter

    So @pepper5 ...

    Can you not show them a magic trick?

    Nothing like a live magic trick. Pupils are so appreciative and give bigger 'wows' than any adult would.

    I would always encourage teachers to have something else other than their subject to 'show off'.

    pepper5 likes this.
  8. internationalschools

    internationalschools New commenter

    Not every child can afford the latest smartphone, and this puts poorer children at a disadvantage if theirs is a lot slower or they don't have as large a data package. They could also be made fun of for not having the latest phone. I work in a private school, and even in my school (where there is no real deprivation) there are parents who won't pay a lot of money for phones and those who will.
    pepper5 likes this.
  9. streetno9

    streetno9 New commenter

    There's a wider issue here. The kids have tech in their trousers that makes the rocket that took Armstrong to the moon look antiquated. There are times when they can be an advantage: with my year 11s, when I want them to revise I let them put in their headphones - I ensure they understand that this is something they lose if I see them overusing the phones. Also, I allow them to take pictures of homework and board-work instead of writing it down as an alternative.

    I understand that not every kid can afford a mobile phone, and I embrace the use of mobile phones when it is appropriate, but I do not rely on them to make the lesson tick. They are far too useful a tool not to. I have found that, when using a phone as an alternative, the students are accepting of this factor. I also appreciate that my school is generally quite privileged and that not every teacher will agree with my stance, but in this results-driven world, I will use EVERY tool at my disposal to help the little so-and-sos get by...
    pepper5 likes this.
  10. sarah_dann1

    sarah_dann1 Occasional commenter TES Behaviour peer advisor

    Hi Streetno9, I agree with you - the technology they have access to is incredible and there can be appropriate times for that to be utilised, especially if the alternative is slow school computers that no-one can afford to upgrade.

    What rules surrounding the use of mobile phones does your school have and are they well enforced?
  11. streetno9

    streetno9 New commenter

    The official line is "mobile phones only to be used at break time as mp3 players". This is enforced well within lessons and somewhat less well out and about. However, there are no guidelines governing when the teacher wants to build them into the lesson. The rule of thumb is "do so, and on your own head be it". My classes are the borderline 4/5ers in English, so I need to be using every little tool.

    Does what I do cause issue elsewhere? Probably - but that'll only be because some bright spark will say "Mr...lets us use our phones in his lessons." Still, as I said in my previous post, they are too valuable a tool to NOT use.
  12. Jo_young

    Jo_young New commenter

    partly i don't think the students should be allowed to use or take phones to school. it does have negative effects.In my school, some students search for the answers of the test paper by their phones, which aches the teachers. There are also some students playing the games on the phone when they should have engaged themselves in the study at school. So the governor should take measures to handle the issue.
    pepper5 and northber like this.
  13. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Star commenter

    Research has shown that, contrary to popular belief, almost no one works better with music on. It's a distraction even if you like it being there. And how on earth do you know what they're actually listening to? With me it would have been Radio 4, which would certainly not have helped me revise anything.

    As for photographing rather than note taking, surely that just means they have to think about it later, when they might forget or choose not to. At least if they've copied or noted something down it's been through their brains once.

    As a parent I wish schools would ban phones altogether. They get broken and lost at school, children use them for all kinds of bad things such as bullying and time wasting, and it means they don't talk to each other. I don't want teachers to do everything they can to help my child get by. I want them to teach and to expect the child to learn and to punish them or reward them appriopriately, to help mould them into useful adults. They should have been taught to do as they're told, whatever that is, not be pandered to to get them to behave.
  14. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter


    I agree with you 100%.

    As a supply teacher, Imget asked "Can we listen to music?" My answer is always no as I agree it is simply task avoidance and a disruption. Schools are not social clubs but places to work hard.
  15. streetno9

    streetno9 New commenter

    A fair point - but I simply disagree with what research says. I am of the belief that what works for one class might not work for another - this simply works for me. As for what they are listening to, you are correct, there is an element of trust here but I'm all about giving students that chance. If they abuse it, then the whole class loses that right. Again, what works for me in my school might not work for you in your school. I don't think this is pandering - this is me giving young adults the opportunity to make a responsible choice; if they mess it up then, as I have said already, I make the choice and every phone goes away.

    I happen to agree with you that phones might be better off banned - but until that decision is made by my head then I am going to use this tool as best I can. On the subject of punishment and reward, is me allowing a student to listen to their own music not a reward? This is something I only ever do on select occasions and is by no means a regular fixture in my teaching toolkit - but the response and quality of work produced indicates that they appreciate it and do work well with the music on during these moments.

    Feel free to disagree with me. I am by no means an authority on this, just a guy trying use every little trick to get these kids to do their best in these monstrous exams around the corner. I hope we have a healthy debate about this.
    1 person likes this.
  16. truth_seeker12

    truth_seeker12 Occasional commenter

    Phone culture in school doesn't work. However, using it for specific classes is different. There are too many disadvantages to it which ends up with the teacher getting in trouble.

    My current school has a no phone policy. They had it in to school in the morning and only get it if teachers allows it with the approval of management.
    pepper5 likes this.
  17. Natalie_A89

    Natalie_A89 New commenter

    This is a tricky subject. In the world in which we live in, it can help interaction in the classroom using both technology and education. Unfortunate as it may seem to you, children interact more via technology. I know friends use software such as DigiClass and similar ones like it as it allows you to link a big IWB to any device allowing interaction during group work and class feedback.

    I guess it depends on what it is you are looking for from your lesson. There are pros and cons to both sides of the argument.
    pepper5 likes this.
  18. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    There is an equal opportunities issue if the whole class is not able to participate.

    There are financial issues with the type of contract that pupils have. There's no point in planning a lesson around phone use and pupils using up their allowance well before the end of the month.

    Battery life on some phones is an issue. Can schools really afford to let pupils re-charge on the premises?

    There are trust issues over what they are accessing and it's harder to police that on mobiles than it is on a PC screen.

    It puts pressure on parents to buy an expensive phone that children really do not need. Too many parents give into "but everyone else has ...!" but if schools routinely let pupils use phones in class, the 'blackmail' will be reinforced ("I can't do my schoolwork properly without a smartphone!")

    As someone else has said, pupils are addicted to their phones. I don't think that schools should be enabling that in lesson time. I was driving away from a school a few years ago and a pupil was waiting to cross the exit road as I approached. She was looking at her phone. I recognised her. Suddenly she wasn't there any more and I slammed on the brakes. As she texted, her phone had flown out of her hands onto the road in front of my car. She dived after it to protect it! She was inches away from going under my wheels.

    Instead of phone use in lessons,I'd support lessons on the dangers and drawbacks of mobile phone addiction.

    I regularly confiscated phones when on supply. I used clear file pockets for each one,folded it over and sealed it with a sticky label.Name,date and time confiscated was written on it and I signed it. It then went in my pocket or in a zipped shoulder bag that I kept on my person. I then handed the phone in to Reception at the next break. If the school required a parent to retrieve the phone, so much the better.
    sabrinakat, pepper5 and wanet like this.
  19. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter


    That is a frightening story of a pupil who almost was killed under the wheels of your car because of a mobile phone. Verry chilling.

    I agree 100% with everything you write and the point you make about it is so difficult to monitor phone usage in a large class is especially true: if students are on phones researching things or doing other tasks, there will always be some who are on sites they are not supposed to be on. In classes of 30 it would be impossible to monitor the class.
  20. jubilee

    jubilee Star commenter

    I was shaking like a leaf but managed to tell her off. She was absolutely fine because ... her phone was undamaged! That really was her only concern.
    pepper5 likes this.

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