The start of the new term has been marked with much speculation about banning mobile phones and iPads from the classroom. Following concerns raised by Ofsted over the impact of the former in schools, schools’ minister Nick Gibb has commissioned an investigation into the impact of smartphones on behaviour in the classroom.
The arguments for and against are compelling – but at Hamstead Hall Academy, Birmingham, where I am Head of School, we believe there is a balance to be struck. We have 1,100 students aged from 11 to 18 in our care – and whilst we operate a strict ‘no mobile phone in school’ policy, we are convinced that the controlled use of mobile technology has a significant role to play in education today and indeed, credit it as a major contributor to our pupils’ recent exam success; results at Hamstead Hall improved significantly this year with 58% of our year 11 students achieving 5 or more A*-C grades including English and Maths. Many subjects recorded record results and I am confident that the growing use of mobile technology had a huge part to play, despite the fact that children are told firmly that phones are not allowed in the classroom.
The staff work incredibly hard with the young people here and we always look for ways to improve achievement; students have been encouraged to embrace online resources to support their study at home and we believe that this has greatly improved their attitudes to independent learning. We actively use iPads as a valuable learning resource, allowing students to access educational apps and develop their own independent learning skills within the classroom.
We also subscribe to GCSEPod; one of a growing number of educational apps which allow students to continue their learning outside of the Academy with exam-mapped, content-rich audio visual podcasts to support the GCSE curriculum. We are a dedicated Apple Regional Training Centre and therefore committed to helping other schools in the West Midlands to adopt mobile technology to enhance teaching and learning – but we believe that maintaining controlled use provides the perfect balance.
Because GCSEPod can be accessed seamlessly across all devices, teachers can use it within the classroom as part of their lessons and to set homework assignments, whilst students can access the same content on their mobile devices to use outside of school hours. In fact, a large amount of its usage is on school PCs and iPads, where the content is used in a controlled environment as part of a teaching resource or to enhance learning.
The students, who conduct their life outside of school on their mobiles, have enthusiastically embraced the new approach to learning and revision. Last year, our GCSE students downloaded thousands of hours of revision podcasts as their final exams approached, which teachers say without a doubt had a direct impact on their exam results; those students who downloaded lots of podcasts all reached their targets and more often than not exceeded their expected grades.
There is no doubt that the ‘Millennium Generation’ consume information in a very different way from previous generations – most of them have been brought up from a young age using touchscreen and mobile devices. This kind of technology will never replace the teacher, but given the seismic shift in the way in which the younger generation communicate, schools across the country are looking at the way it can be weaved in to the classroom in a controlled and safe manner – and rightly so.
Mobile devices can be a distraction for everyone, of course, but we need to recognise that our students are digital natives, teach them how to use the devices responsibly and make the most of the technology available to support their learning. It’s a question of balance – despite recent headlines, mobile technology is not a cause for fear or alarm; it has certainly begun to enhance teaching and learning within Hamstead Hall, even though our students are told to keep their phones safely at home.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Mortimer is Head of School at Hamstead Hall Academy in Birmingham