MOBILE PHONES IN SCHOOLS – LESSONS FROM LOCKDOWN
If there’s one lesson schools have had to learn in lockdown, it’s the importance of communication.
How will lockdown affect the debate on mobile phones in schools?
For older students the virtual classroom has become the reality. Their only contact with teachers in lockdown is likely to have been by email or mobile phone. At primary level, the school phone system would have been the main gateway for schools to relay important information to parents and staff.
Perhaps things will get back to ‘normal’. But uncertainty remains. There are mixed messages in the air about on-off rotas, staggered entries, and year-specific attendance. Staying ahead of further changes is a challenge for all schools. Reviewing all communications resources, including the use of mobiles, will be a task for many of them.
Banning mobile phones has been on option for schools in the past. Might they be willing to relax their policy now if they see them as collaborative tools for learning and safety?
Should Mobile Phones Be Banned in Schools?
The pros and cons over mobiles in school are already subject to wide public discussion. Mobile phones are regarded by many, including some MPs, as the biggest distraction in the classroom. They are seen as an impediment to learning, with a direct negative impact on teaching and the quality of education.
In some countries, including France and Canada, a ban on cellphones in schools has been in place since 2018 and 2019 respectively. The French government says its law, which applies to pupils under the age of 15, enables them to focus better during lessons. Expressing concerns about social media use, it also highlights the dangers of cyberbullying, theft prevention and violence as other reasons to ban mobile phones in school.
Who could argue with that?
Why Mobile Phones Should be Allowed in School
Opponents of a ban on mobile phones in schools say they have as many advantages as disadvantages. In emergencies they can help identify a child’s location, or enable a parent to relay an important message. Mobiles may yet have a role to play if ever a a universal track and trace system for Covid-19 is implemented. On these grounds, students would surely be encouraged to have one.
Updated guidelines from the Department of Education seem to indicate some further recognition that it’s time to move the debate on. Their 22,000 word guidelines on how to keep schools safe, include instructions for pupils to limit what they bring to essentials “such as lunch boxes, hats, coats, books, stationery and mobile phones”.
Students themselves may be wondering if their school mobile phone policy will change. While schools were closed, many might only have had their phone as a means to access course work. A shortage of tablets and laptops – even remanufactured ones – may have left some students at a disadvantage for learning. Sensitive to a potential rich-poor tech divide, schools may need to relax their mobile phone policies to help narrow the gap. Mobile phones are the only way for some students to take notes, organise reference material and do research online .
School Communication with Students
Parents and students need not think twice before calling a teacher or other member of staff. Things are not so simple the other way round.
The National Education Union (NEU) published advice giving teachers all the information they needed if they have to call pupils at home. By far the safest, and most accessible way, for school staff to connect with students is to make use of online calling facilities. It recommends cloud solutions like the software-based 3CX Phone system, which is used widely in the Education sector.
Before Coronavirus the main time when teachers might have had to call pupils or parents would have been on school trips or at sports events. The teaching unions generally advise their members not to use their own personal devices for such contact. Instead teachers accompanying children on external trips would each be given a separate ‘school phone’, so they could be reached by, or make calls without having to use their own phones.
Lockdown presented a new issue. With nearly all staff based at home, there simply were not enough of these school phones to go around. How could teachers continue to teach and remain available for contact, whilst ensuring they followed the usual safeguarding protocols in the school’s communication policy?
Mobile Integration in Schools
The answer for schools was to encourage staff to use their mobiles, or other devices, as softphones.
During lockdown, Clarion set up many schools for remote working. Installing scalable, software-based phone platforms meant schools could replace outdated fixed line networks. These systems include Mobile Apps for teachers. Through these, staff access the school phone system for contact with parents, colleagues and students.
Redden Court School in Harold Wood uses the multi-featured 3CX phone system. School staff can turn their personal devices into softphones, effectively mirroring the school’s entire phone system. If they need to call a student or parent they can do so from their mobiles, secure in the knowledge that it will only be the school number that shows on the recipient’s phone.
From multiple locations – a teacher’s home, the sports hall, a school ski trip – all staff can be given the same access to the relevant data wherever they are. System users can also see the presence of colleagues, so calls can be transferred quickly. Important information, such as pupil records, may be available to guarantee a more personalised call experience if a student or parent needs to be contacted.
Improving operating efficiency through mobile integration has also benefitted the London School of Science and Technology (LSST). Over 160 staff have been set up with softphones. They have all been able to download a mobile phone app under an Nfon hosted telephony plan. Users can make or receive calls from any location, using Wifi, 4G/3G or GSM.
On an everyday basis, cloud hosted telephony helps LSST maintain its full student service delivery. In a disaster scenario, the school knows its staff are fully connected and can be notified and instructed instantly.
Cloud Telephony for your School
Clarion provides Telephony/IT solutions to hundreds of schools, academies, colleges and universities around the UK. If you are looking to upgrade your phone system please call us on 0333 222 6633. Or get in touch with us by email. Ask us too about our sustainable ICT options. Including buyback schemes for your old equipment, a nationwide tree-planting programme, and remanufactured options on hardware.