Education secretary Gavin Williamson recently argued that mobile phones have no place in schools, and that they detract from a “calm and orderly environment where everyone can learn.” He differentiates between the use of personal phones and school-provided tablets and laptops, claiming that the latter are welcome and praising their role in learning. This distinction is unproductive, and his attitude is trapped in the past.
If we accept that schools are to prepare pupils for the real world, we must embrace mobile phones as powerful tools for learning, expression, communication, and productivity – not just mindlessly scrolling through social media. Vilifying phones puts teachers at odds with pupils, whereas using them breaks down barriers and engages pupils with the lesson. In short, phones have a place in the classroom.
I oversee IT infrastructure in the classroom at Framlingham College in Suffolk and we have experimented with phone use in the classroom.
Our school takes pride in its entrepreneurial spirit, and we believe that supporting pupils as they use technology is essential to creating the next generation of business leaders. Rather than relegating IT to a single class, we have made it a cross-curricular subject with connections to every lesson. We have also added BTEC courses on web design and digital marketing strategies.
“Using mobile phones breaks down barriers and engages pupils with the lesson.”
Pupils have also embraced phone use in extracurricular activities. Several clubs have used their phones’ high-quality cameras to create a pupil-produced video to meet business briefs. Modern phones have all the tools pupils need to make films – including professional editing software. Schools a few decades ago would have been eager to welcome this technology, not calling to outlaw it.
As the pandemic has made clear, technology is a vital part of our everyday lives. We teach app development and coding using Visual Studio. As a part of these lessons, pupils can run the programmes they write on their phones. This connection between the devices they use every day and the skills they are learning in the classroom keeps them engaged and provides a sense of achievement. In the future, we are planning on integrating app development using industry-standard tools and languages into other subjects across the curriculum.
“The connection between the devices they use every day and the skills they are learning in the classroom keeps them engaged and provides a sense of achievement.”
The results of teaching coding have been excellent. Our computer science scholars developed a treasure hunt for our prep school open day last year which integrated QR-codes, and a Year 13 pupil developed a table-booking app for his father’s restaurant business. Discouraging creativity is to a school’s and its pupils’ detriment.
We also seek to foster creativity within the art studio. The head of art at Framlingham has been an advocate of laptops, iPads, and — yes — phones since long before NFTs rocked the art world. Younger students, for example, particularly enjoy learning to produce stop-motion animation using dedicated software.
Pupils also value the phone as a camera for capturing photos, filming, and editing. Whereas providing these resources to each pupil may be complex and costly, we use the tools — and familiarity with them — that each pupil already has.
“We must teach and trust our pupils to behave responsibly — we have had positive results doing so.”
Phones aren’t simply devices for distraction, or messaging; they’re powerful, versatile tools that can enhance learning everywhere from the art studio to the business classroom. Schools that create an artificially phone-free environment are not equipping their pupils for the real world. We must teach and trust our pupils to behave responsibly — we have had positive results doing so — and give them the best education we can to become confident, skilled and productive members of our global society.