: Hung Up: why clarity and boundaries are crucial in managing mobile phone use in post-16 settings With tips on how to deal with mobile phones without a fuss!

Hung Up: why clarity and boundaries are crucial in managing mobile phone use in post-16 settings

With tips on how to deal with mobile phones without a fuss!


Doug King

Vice Principal, Oldham Sixth Form College

Read more aboutDoug King

The recent Department for Education guidance on mobile phones in schools provides a good opportunity to reflect on approaches to mobile phone usage in post-16 settings. Whilst schools are able to take many options including an outright ban on mobiles, this is more complex when students move on to college education. Corbett (2018) is referenced in this article from Impact which stresses our responsibility to teach responsible use of such devices. Doug King, Vice Principal at Oldham Sixth Form College, explains how important it is to model high expectations to students and have consistency across all classrooms.

There is a delicate balance to be had with the issue’ of mobile phones in classrooms. At Oldham Sixth Form College we strive to develop independent learners with the ability to self-regulate and develop positive learning behaviours both in and out of the classroom. However, this needs to be considered against a backdrop where a mobile phone is an integral part of the lives of 16 – 19 year olds and social media companies are battling for their attention to the extent that some young people are displaying worryingly addictive behaviours with their phone. We also need to contextualise the government guidance where, for example, it suggests that phone use should be prohibited at breaks and lunchtimes. With the complexities of post-16 timetables this is simply not realistic.

Our approach is to ensure that teaching and learning is not disrupted by mobiles and we are helping students develop a healthy relationship with their phone use.

Ensuring teaching and learning is not impacted by mobile phone use means the fundamentals of behaviour management are crucial. When looking at how we would get 16 – 19 learners on-board with our mobile phone expectations the EEF Improving Behaviour in Schools Guidance Report provided us with some important guidance to help establish routines and habits that minimise the mobile phone related disruption in the classroom.

Implementation plan
OSFC Implementation Plan

Recommendation 2 from the EEF report states Teaching learning behaviours alongside managing misbehaviour’. Whilst all misbehaviour cannot be eradicated it can be minimised and a positive learning climate can be created through the explicit teaching of learning behaviours. The first step is ensuring a clear and simple expectation is communicated to students and parents. In this case the expectation is that phones should be turned off and put away when students are in the classroom. Clear messaging is crucial in this context; ensuring that phones are turned off enhances the clarity of the situation.. Social media notifications are one of the main drivers in students checking phones in lessons; when phones are off notifications cannot come through. This clear expectation is communicated via:

  • Senior Leaders in Induction Assemblies
  • Subject Tutors in induction lessons and throughout the term
  • Progress Tutors in induction sessions and tutorial sessions throughout the term
  • Email and letters to parents at the start of the year
  • Signage in classrooms

Having the expectation that phones should be off and away re-iterated from different sources throughout the year makes it far easier for staff to challenge when the inevitable happens. Helping students understand the why’ is also important for buy-in. Explaining the impact of checking your phone in lessons is also explained clearly at the start of the year and helps students to consider their actions. We highlight the negative impact on learning and understanding, the impact on other students in the class when they see a phone out and the impact on developing respectful relationships with staff.

Recommendation 4Use simple approaches as part of your routine’ provides some sound guidance on how the little things can have a big impact. Some strategies don’t require complex pedagogical changes to practise but have a positive impact in creating a purposeful learning climate. Good practice in this case is ensuring that students are reminded at the start of each lesson for each member of staff that phones should be off and away. This consistent message is the starting point but we also need to consider the approach when phones are seen to be used in lessons. As with most behaviour routines a staged approach is important to make sure that an incident doesn’t get too big, too quickly. Scanning of the classroom and the initial notice’ or look’ is a disruption free challenge to show that the teacher has seen the phone and often this is enough for it to be turned off and put away without further prompts. If this doesn’t work, having a scripted approach and going back to the reasons why we expect phones to be turned off and put away helps with compliance. This is often a good opportunity to remind students of the potential consequences of the phone being used again. Sanctions in post-16 will vary from institution to institution but could include keeping students behind at the end of the lesson to discuss concerns with phone use, use of behaviour logs, involvement of parents/​carers where the issue persists and or confiscation of phone until the end of the lesson.

Whilst all the recommendations in the EEF report are useful. The success of any approach to behaviour management is Recommendation 6Consistency is key’. Having a consistent approach from all staff is crucial in ensuring that mobile phones are not a distraction in lesson. During the academic year there can be an inevitable drift and it’s useful to have behaviour re-sets’ where there is an all staff approach on certain learning behaviours. Often these are most effective at the start of each term and this is especially true for mobile phones where students will have had unlimited access to their phones during the holidays.

The fundamentals of behaviour management stay the same regardless of the behaviours we are looking to instil. The six recommendations from the EEF Improving Behaviour in Schools Guidance Report provide a good opportunity to look at how these are applied in our post-16 settings with the specific behaviour issues we face within our own institutions.

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How to deal with mobile phones without a fuss!

Implementation 2

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