28 March 2019
Dorothy MacGinty, head of Kilgraston School in Perth, discusses why her school decided to ban the use of mobile phones during the school day.
The definition of the word ‘ban’ is: “an official order that prevents someone doing something”.
This week an article in The Times reported on an improvement in learning following a school’s mobile phone ban.
It is true, Kilgraston School did, in August last year, ‘ban’ the use of mobile devices, throughout our campus, during the day,
Arriving at this review of school policy had been precipitated by my concern as a head, and as a parent, of girls becoming socially dependent on mobile phones. Tense with the anticipation of the next electronic proclamation, the girls’ face-to-face interaction and basics, like eye-contact and the ability to listen, were deteriorating.
I’d like to think that our decision to stop the use of these machines wasn’t just a heavy-handed edict. It was the beginning of a learning curve for both the pupils and staff, one that has taught us all how to manage available time and resources to greater effect.
Like most decisions in life, it was a gamble. Would I be burdening staff with a greater workload and requirement for enforcing discipline? Would pupils resent me/teachers for the severing of their ‘lifeline’? Would parents be cross and not having ready access to their children?
Rather than just say, “mobiles are banned,” I wanted to work with the girls so that the motivation came from them. Everyone knows that as soon as you say to a teenager, “you can’t have that,” this makes ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is, much more desirable. My challenge was to filter through the message that, yes, daily access to mobiles was removed, but the benefits far outweighed the perceived disadvantages.
At first there were niggles about a feeling of exclusion as the social media world whirred on without them. A few parents complained about difficulty with collection arrangements. I myself had to remember to leave my phone at my desk when walking around school.
Within a month, a fascinating piece of social anthropology occurred. Girls became their own ‘police’ and soft skills were utilised.
It was definitely de rigueur not to use your phone. Staff began hearing stories of relief that the electronic hand-cuffs had been removed; that less uploaded material resulted in correspondingly reduced reciprocal information; increasingly there was improved interaction across the age ranges.
The benefits became the incentive.
For some time I have been contemplating medical reports that claim screen time does not harm young people. I think the wrong barometer is being used. Screen use may not have a physical impact on the brain but the real harm, and what we should be measuring, are effects on social skills. I’m delighted that our young women have demonstrated the necessary skills needed to navigate this tricky tide.
Dorothy MacGinty, Headmistress, Kilgraston School