With the start of the new school year, the debate as to whether smartphones should or should not be allowed in schools has been reignited. While loveit coverit’s independent research discovered that only 24% of parents believe that schools should completely ban smartphones from schools, we felt that it was important to get the perspective of those on the front-line of dealing with emerging technologies. We spoke to Ms. Sally Carrington, Assistant Headteacher at Shoeburyness High School in Southend-on-Sea, Essex to discuss the school’s zero tolerance mobile phone policy and to find out more about the wider effects that smartphones are having on pupils, parents and staff at all levels of education:
From your experience do you feel that smartphones have had a detrimental effect on the school environment? Are the effects actually enough to justify Shoeburyness High School’s zero tolerance approach?
“On both counts we would say absolutely yes! But in particular, the introduction of cameras on phones was the final straw. Unfortunately, they were being used inappropriately by a small minority, but enough for us to place a complete ban on them. We also did not believe that it was the school’s responsibility to find lost or stolen phones; we have over 1700 students!”
Would you say that you’ve seen a general improvement since the total ban was put in place?
“We wanted to remove the distraction of mobile phones in lessons in order to help improve our results. The decision [to ban smartphones] has had a major impact on improving results.”
In your pastoral role, have you ever been approached by staff with concerns about cyberbullying? Whether that be them being a victim, concerns about pupils, or they simply don’t know the school’s protocols regarding cyberbullying?
“Yes, we have been approached by a number of staff who have been targeted on social media without their consent. As a rule we strongly advise our employees NOT to use social media platforms, as this can encourage cyberbullying. Our current safeguarding policy instructs all staff to report any incident of cyberbullying. All of our staff have access to the school’s policies which cover our approach to cyberbullying.”
What’s the protocol if a child does report cyberbullying?
“Students who report incidents (and have the evidence) make it much easier for us to report it to the relevant outside agencies, including the police. Parents are duly informed of all incidents, whether their child is the perpetrator or the victim.”
Have you ever had parents push back against the school’s confiscation policy on mobile phones, or would you say that you have received support from parents on the issue?
“The majority of parents have wholeheartedly supported the school’s stance on mobile phones. We are not naïve enough to believe the students are not carrying them; however, if they are either seen or heard, they ARE confiscated until the end of that half term and kept in the school safe. Very few parents have felt the need to push back against our policy, but it has happened.”
What have they done to push back?
“Some have felt the need to threaten us with a whole range of things, including solicitors, the media, their MP and Ofsted, but on no occasion have we relinquished the phone.”
Could you provide any brief anecdotal examples of how parents have disputed the school’s mobile phone policy with you?
“One parent once described Shoeburyness – the area, not the school – as a ghetto, and insisted that their child needed a mobile phone to ensure that they were safe. On another occasion, a Deputy Headteacher was accused of not having a heart when they refused to relinquish a mobile.”
This is, of course, only one perspective on the issue of children using mobile phones in schools. However, it is interesting to juxtapose Ms. Carrington’s assertion that the majority of parents support the zero-tolerance stance with the data we’ve retrieved through our survey. This may hint to the idea that while, individually, parents may have their own opinions as to how schools should handle smartphones, they’re happy to follow the school’s example if it chooses to do something different.
If you’re interested in other perspectives on this issue, be sure to check out our interview with Childnet.
All views and opinions expressed are the interviewee’s own, given with full knowledge and consent of the Shoeburyness High School Headteacher, Mrs. Claire Costello.