I can't believe I agree with this Tory education policy
It’s not often I agree with the Tories.
Regular readers will know that, as a teacher, I take serious issue with their approach to schools that are so crippled by the cost of living crisis and the legacy of the pandemic, austerity freezes and funding cuts that we are on our knees.
But when it was confirmed that Education Secretary Gillian Keegan planned to implement a blanket ban on phones at all schools in England, I couldn’t help myself nodding in support.
While there have rightly been concerns raised about Keegan’s motivations, and the implementation, in principle this move helps tackle a growing problem I’ve seen first hand.
There’s only so many times you can see teenagers break down in tears because someone has said something terrible about them online, or catch them photographing themselves pouting in the mirror when they should be in lessons, before coming to the conclusion that phones are draining childhood of the innocence, curiosity and freedom that it should possess.
So, to my own surprise, I found myself backing a Conservative minister.
Anything that curbs the chokehold phones have on the minds of young people is a good thing in my book.
Any teacher will tell you of the fights and arguments that erupt on a daily basis over one child ‘liking’ something that was about another student or a crisis over comments on a photograph.
And that’s before you even consider the body shaming and self hatred that comes from impressionable young girls constantly scrolling through stick thin social media models when their body and mind has barely even finished growing yet.
Or revenge porn, a growing problem in schools.
I’ve seen from dealing with teenagers that sharing sexually explicit images is widespread because it is viewed as a normal marker of a supposedly more ‘adult’ relationship.
And then, as is so often the case, those images risk being leaked, spread across schools and even entire communities.
I’ve witnessed young girls suffering the mental health impact of something that has happened online, or feeling that their life is over.
And there is a crisis among young boys too.
Social media is filled with such unchecked hatred that boys I teach are in more danger than ever of being roped into incel mentality thanks to the proliferation of misogyny online and viral figures like Andrew Tate who, in my view, teach teenagers that treating women as objects makes them a real man.
In my classroom, I’ve noticed the difference.
Boys defaulting to misogynistic language when confronted by a female teacher or another girl in their class. Boys choosing influencers like Andrew Tate when asked to do homework projects about an inspirational figure.
Girls, too, are withdrawing into themselves, even internalising the very same dehumanising language and using it towards their peers.
Since the dawn of time, teenagers have acted out. That’s nothing new.
But smartphones are built around the premise of making them as addictive as possible.
If, as adults, we can barely go a few minutes without checking our own phones, then it’s practically impossible to expect kids to display even more self restraint.
And that’s the problem – having them so easily within reach during a lesson makes the already ever-expanding demands of teaching all the more difficult.
Having to look out for a sneaky text being sent or air pods concealed behind long hair makes everything more disruptive for everyone – including the students themselves.
Type any school’s name into TikTok and you’ll see covert footage filmed during lessons or at lunchtimes – often of other people without their consent, pupils and teachers alike.
None of us should have to worry about being filmed by our peers in the place we spend the bulk of our weekdays.
Young people, whether they realise it or not, need those in charge to safeguard them from what’s in their own pockets
All of this is not to deny that phones essentially rule our existence or the importance of teaching children how to use technology properly in a rapidly developing world.
And banning phones for eight hours a day isn’t going to keep children safe all year round. But, as ever in schools, we can only do our bit and hope that the rest of society – be it social media companies, our politicians and pupils’ families do theirs.
While I support this policy, I certainly hope it’s not just a cheap, party conference headline grabber from the Education Secretary.
Because it is a policy that has been raised before, in fact, several times.
And of course, pretty much all schools already have restrictions on phones.
There’s certainly not a school I know of that allows kids to kick back and scroll social media as a teacher yabbers on about equations.
But it certainly makes it easier for one school to enact a blanket ban on devices if it’s been mandated across the country – especially in this age of parent complaints about school policies hitting the tabloid press.
Of course, politicians often say things during conference season that don’t end up becoming policy, and there are, arguably, far more pressing issues in schools.
One headteacher of a school in Oldham has described this policy as a ‘smokescreen’ to mask the real problems in schools and there’s a part of me that agrees.
As ever with Tory education policies, it is being portrayed as a catch-all solution to a problem that is complex, deeply-rooted and multifaceted.
That said, if the issue is making the news at all then it shows that, somewhere, it is being taken seriously and that can only ever be a good thing for young people up and down the country who, whether they realise it or not, need those in charge to safeguard them from what’s in their own pockets.
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