Banned on the run

So, banning mobile phones. How’s that going to work out in the end, after the first glow of satisfaction that you’ve “done something”?

There are two ways to have a ban I guess. Either zero phones on the school estate, or collect phones each day and hand them out again at the end of the day. I’m deliberately ignoring the thing that schools actually do at the moment which is have either a total ban on visibility of the phone during the day, or a “only use at break/lunchtimes” ban. This is of course mixed in with permitted usage in a lesson when the teacher allows. No, I’m talking about a proper “no phones on the students person during the day” ban.

There are a number of problems with this but in the end (leaving aside the logistical considerations) they all come down to the same thing – you can’t ensure that a kid doesn’t have a phone on them. Unless you pat them down at the school gates it’s not possible to be sure.

And which kids are going to be the ones who have a clandestine phone on them? Is it the good ones, the ones who aren’t likely to film the teacher, or look at Snapchat in lessons? I’d suggest not. I’d suggest that the kid with the clandestine phone is one most likely to do those things.

So I’m asking myself “what problem has actually been solved by the ban”?

And it will get more difficult.

Do we ban watches? Right now, I guess, it’s possible to ban a small subset of watches. And as they are quite expensive only a few students have them. You know, like it was with Smart Phones ten years ago. Soon, it will be all watches. So we ban watches.

Do we ban glasses? That’s easy at the moment, they ban themselves. No one wants to be seen dead wearing any form of enhance eyewear. But there will come a point when that will change. Same as it did for phones. Same as it will for watches. When they get glasses right I’ll be in there like Flint.

Contact Lenses? Do we ban contact lenses? Many years off, but how would you deal with a child that wears lenses that could film whatever they are seeing?

And I could continue with a long list of connected devices. Normal, everyday, artefacts. But connected. Banning becomes a never ending battle which once you’re in it you can never stop. It’s Tom versus Jerry, but without the laughs. Banning things is very hard. Banning small things is harder still.

I go back to the beginning.

I started school before the pocket calculator existed. When they first arrived they were banned. My son now gets in trouble if he forgets to bring his to school. Along the way we have had all the same issues and all the same ‘solutions’. We have had bans, we have had kids writing ‘Boobies”, we have had specific exam board mandated machines, for a while the DfES was even proposing making their own.

And finally, finally, we’ve reached the sensible solution.

The one that works. The kid has the machine. Whether or not the kid can make the use of the machine is decided by the teacher.

Which is how it should be. Unfortunately we don’t seem to have learnt from the experience and are doomed to repeat the same pattern of errors over again.

Now a smart phone is a quantum leap onwards from a calculator, I know that. The affordances of the device make the problems it can create much greater. The judgement each school must make, in its own setting, is “what approach serves my students best”. Statements by national figures, which get translated into “schools should ban phones” are, in this context, unhelpful. Particularly from the myth busters at Ofsted.

My argument isn’t that students have some form of divine right to carry a phone and that every lesson they have would be better if they have  phone to use in it. My argument is that a ban is unenforceable and has the potential to create more problems than it solves. And it removes the capacity for teachers to make informed judgements about the resources they use in their classrooms.

That’s all.

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2 thoughts on “Banned on the run

  1. Surely the point here is why on earth are the government getting involved in such a minuscule detail of running a school. Every school I’ve worked in enforces some sort of ban in a way that works for them. DfE – butt out!

    1. This is fairly typical of the DfE approach.
      -Take something that already happens.
      -Pretend it doesn’t happen.
      -Insist it must happen.
      -Wait a little while.
      -Point out your efforts have made the thing happen.

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