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Re ections on the King Alfred School Society Annual Conference
The Adolescent and the Phone
“The iPhone has celebrated its 10th birthday. Ten years ago we would not be discussing this topic” said Robert Lobatto, Head of King Alfred School as he introduced the King Alfred School conference “The Adolescent and the Phone”. The last 10 years has seen a dramatic shift in the
use of technology, from the family sharing a home PC to all family members having their own personal device. This conference offered timely discussion, as the Government is about to publish a green paper on young people’s mental health services and social media is under the spotlight as a contributor for depression. Experts in child cyber-psychology and teenage digital addiction came together at King Alfred School and shared their clinical research while two Headteachers expressed their polar opposite views on the subject of banning smartphones in schools.
Conference delegates were
met on arrival with a voting system and were asked to decide whether (a) they agreed that phones should be banned in school, (b) phones should not
be banned in schools or (c) they were undecided. There was an overwhelming shift in views after delegates heard the experts debate. Before the event, most attendees, including parents and educators were split between
(a) in favor of a ban in schools and (c) undecided. Later we will share the results of the post- conference vote.
Victoria Eadie, previously Headteacher of Feltham Community College, and now CEO of Tudor Park Education and Chair of Hounslow Secondary Education Partnership, was clear that children need downtime from their phones during the school day. After seeing a remarkable change three years ago in the over-use of phones, she banned phones in her school. The students were not able to self-regulate and parents pleaded with the school to get involved. The decision
was made because she saw “the use of social media was highly destructive to the students’ wellbeing and education”. She explained it has taken two years for the policy to become second nature to the children and now at lunchtime children engage with each other, take part in activities, play and communicate face-to-face.
Kathy Crewe Read, Head of Wolverhampton Grammar School, debated that phones are an integral part of young people’s
lives. She encourages children to bring phones into school and her teachers support students to use them responsibly, using them for data capture and storing notes in the classroom. Kathy quoted Malcolm X who said, “Education is our passport to the future,
for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today”. Every other sector of society is embracing mobile technology; Kathy believes it is not right
to expect teachers to ignore a valuable educational and social tool and young people deserve to be prepared for a techno-savvy world.
One of the founding principles of KAS is to seek out the latest research and evidence to help inform their teaching and prides itself in being open to new ideas. The Upper School conducted its own ‘experiment’ to consider
the impact of mobile phones
on King Alfred students and measured the impact on their holistic experience in school (e.g. engagement, enthusiasm and focus in lessons; involvement in extracurricular activities; social interaction; sleep; self-regulation and levels of anxiety). During “Phone Fast Fortnight” all the children in Years 7 and 8 had no access to their phones during
the school day. The results demonstrated there was no signi cant difference in their wellbeing at home and at school after the “Fast”.
The post-fast survey revealed there had been a shift in perception amongst the students. Outcomes included that they checked their phone less often (by 16%), they were more open
about their usage and said they took part in more interactions with the family. One student said, “It made me realise how much time I spend on my phone every day”.
A KAS parent remarked after the experiment “I did  nd that my child’s desire to use his phone lasted longer in the evenings because he didn’t have it during the school day time, but that’s for us as parents to help him manage, and school time is for school life”.
Erin Cotter, founder of Reconnect Project, asked the audience “Can you give up your phone for a week?” There was
a mixed response. She ran a digital detox initiative for schools and found sleep and family conversation bene ted the most when phones were switched off. Erin promotes an open approach, she brought young people into the debate where often they are marginalised and this allowed them to develop personal digital guidelines and rules.
Rosie Jenkins, a public health researcher at Imperial College, outlined the work from the Study of Cognition, Adolescence and Mobile Phones (SCAMP). Having researched 6,000 pupils from years 7 to 9 in 39 schools, it is the largest study in the world to investigate the impact of radio waves on the development of the adolescent brain. King Alfred School is also taking part in the research and we look forward to knowing the  ndings due to be published in 2019.
Professor Sonia Livingstone, OBE, shared her year-long study
of a class of Year 9 children’s
use of digital media at school,
at home and with their friends. She found that children learn a host of skills when using digital media – they build communities, share a moment, and engage in spontaneous conversations. They also develop digital resilience
and most are able to evaluate which is trustworthy. She said, “The internet is scaffolding new ways for children to explore and have fun, it opens up possibilities for agency and enables useful connections.
Sandra Eaton Grey, senior lecturer at the UCL Institute of Education, described childhood as a “cognitive journey that parents bring the children on”. It is her view that over-regulation and ignoring children’s data privacy rights drives undesirable online activity underground
and compromises the ability of children and their parents to have high quality conversations about how they use technology in their everyday lives.
John Carr, Secretary of the UK Children’s Charities Coalition on Internet Safety, calls the smartphone “a complicated friend”. According to John
“it is hard for parents not to
panic when there are so many screaming headlines outlining
all the negative aspects to the internet and in particular social media”. But he also said “for
the majority of people, for the majority of time, smartphones are life-enhancing and part of the challenge of being a 21st Century parent or teacher is to  nd ways to help young people navigate the negative aspects to smartphones”.
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