'Smart' phone use?

I hope that the wet weather did not curtail any family plans over half-term and that our pupils have returned refreshed and ready to enjoy more spring-like days. I am grateful to staff who accompanied trips to Berlin (Art and German), Valencia (Spanish exchange) and Italy (ski trip.); I know how much our pupils can benefit from such experiences.

On the Friday before half-term, some of our current and former staff gathered for a few minutes’ reflection as we recalled with great affection our colleague Angela Patterson who died while in service in the summer of 2022 and who would have celebrated her 60th birthday during half-term. We said some prayers and dedicated a tree and bench near the Science block; I have told pupils about its significance and have also said how welcome they will be to sit under the shade of that tree and to look towards Great Glen in the summer. We did not remember Angela like this last year, as her son was in his final year at the school and, like his mother, wanted as little fuss made as possible; he is a remarkable, talented and very kind young man and was a super role model to younger pupils in drama, music, sport and his studies. Simon Ainge, Angela’s head of department, read from the book ‘Lessons in Chemistry’: “Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun.” I was able to read out some tributes from former pupils and to conclude: “The best teachers, of course, are those who care deeply about their charges without seeking approbation, because they simply love what they do. Angela was one of those.”

You may have read last week about the new Government guidance on mobile phones in schools – which has led to a fair bit of media focus on some of the detrimental effects of excessive smartphone-use and on some of the content our children are exposed to online. Please be reassured that we already have clear rules in place, and that any pupil up to Year 11 caught using their phone in school, unless under staff supervision, has that phone confiscated and receives an after-school detention. Furthermore, Sixth Formers should only use their phones in designated areas. On school trips, pupils are either not allowed to take phones or use is limited and they have to hand them in at night – depending on their age. Staff comment on how refreshing it is for pupils to interact socially and to make their own entertainment without the distraction of their phones. When the return of the Year 8 ski trip to LGS was delayed last Saturday, it was not problematic for the trip leader to inform parents by other means.

Despite these measures, we will be giving further thought to our approach in the light of the current debate – and we are already including pupils in that conversation. That national debate is healthy and overdue. Most of our youngsters’ misuse of mobile technology actually occurs outside school, although we still address those situations which have an impact on our community and support pupils who have been exposed to harmful material online. We also give guidance to pupils and parents, and we can all agree with the argument that still more needs to be done to curb the powers of the tech giants, whose algorithms target our children when they are still doing their best to navigate life’s challenges in their teenage years.

There have been examples of a ‘critical mass’ of parents who have clubbed together to agree that they will not purchase smart phones for their children, especially in primary school. I always ask for parental support in ensuring that their children’s mobile phones are left downstairs at night, although we still sometimes see examples of messages sent very late in the evening when we are dealing with pastoral concerns. So, using the same ‘critical mass’ argument, please support other parents by limiting and monitoring your child’s use and by insisting that – no ifs or buts – the phone stays out of the bedroom at night.

Best wishes, and thank you for your support of our shared values,

John Watson