One of the UK’s most famous boarding schools is putting its weight behind calls for all schools to ban the use of mobile phones during the school day.
The Principal of Gordonstoun, Lisa Kerr, says this is the only way to help the next generation develop the social skills they will need to succeed in life as well as to keep them safe online.
Last month, the headteacher of Michaela Community School in London said the government should ban the use of phones in schools as they pose a threat comparable to alcohol and cigarettes. Katharine Birbalsingh said phones expose children to harmful content and damage their attention span.
Other schools in Scotland have reported improved exam results following mobile phone bans. The National Association of Head Teachers issued guidance to parents to warn them to supervise the use of devices, yet educational policy still differs from school to school.
Lisa said: ‘Many children will have received new mobile phones, apps, consoles and games for Christmas but we also know that parents worry about the amount of screen-time their children are getting.
‘As a school with a strong reputation for outdoor learning, Gordonstoun is seeing an increasing number of inquiries from parents of children who used to be active, sporty or musical but are spending increasing time on screens and are no longer interacting with other children or going out. They are drawn to us because they want their children to have real, not virtual experiences.’
Gordonstoun banned the use of mobile phones during the school day in 2017. Instead, the focus is on developing skills for life including confidence, resilience and teamwork through a broad range of activities which include sport, drama, music and volunteering in the local community.
Lisa added: ‘With competition for university places and jobs tougher than ever, we know that young people need more than just great exam results to succeed in life. Spending their time interacting with each other rather than their phones helps to build strong social and interpersonal skills.
‘Being off screens also gives more time for sports, arts, expeditions and community service. Without decisive action, we are in danger of raising a generation who cannot build meaningful relationships with a wide range of people. This already evident at social events: whereas once you would walk into a room and strike up a conversation with someone, now everyone has their heads buried in their phones.
‘By not allowing children to look at their phones during the day, we are teaching them to have control of their phones rather than their phones controlling them. To our surprise, the feedback from pupils has been much more positive that we thought it would be – and they particularly enjoy the complete “detox” when they do multi-day sail training voyages and expeditions.
‘We use technology in various ways through the school day to make sure our students are confident in a digital world and they don’t miss out by not having their phones to hand. By removing mobile phones we also reduce the pressure to have the latest or most expensive model and we end the stigma attached to children who don’t have a phone at all.
‘One of the effects of our mobile phone ban has been a big increase in noise levels between lessons. We see this as a good thing. Children are holding conversations, sharing jokes, catching up with each other and doing so face to face, not via social media.
‘There are lots of adventures to be had around the school campus and even just around the canteen table. Limit the screen-time and young people will go out and experience big skies rather than big screens.’