Left to their own devices? MM explore mobile phone use in Manchester schools

Mobile phones are an intrinsic part of modern society. With the average teenager spending upwards of two hours per day on their smartphones, many schools in Greater Manchester are trying to limit phone usage during the day.

Schools have widely varying ideas regarding smartphones, with some being more tolerant of their ever-increasing presence than others.

This follows culture secretary Matt Hancock’s suggestion that head teachers should confiscate students’ phones at the start of the school day to reduce the effect they can have on academic achievement.

One school with a zero-tolerance policy is Burnage Academy for Boys, which has not allowed mobile technology to be brought into school for more than six years.

Headmaster Ian Fenn said: “The most important thing we have done for pupils to improve learning.”

By taking what some would deem a radical step, he believes that he has drastically improved attainment and exam results.

Contrastingly, the Bright Futures Educational Trust, a group of schools which includes Altrincham Grammar School for Girls and Cedar Mount Academy, promote a policy of BYOD (bring your own device).

According to their e-safety policy, students can bring their phones into school, and use them during break and lunch, but they must be in silent mode during lessons unless given permission by the teacher.

Whilst they may limit phone use to a certain extent, by allowing students to have their mobile phones on throughout the day, and use them with guidance in lessons, BFET has a far more open policy than the vast majority of schools.

However, many individuals would argue that this is taking it too far, and that allowing students to access their phones throughout the day could have serious repercussions in relation to their exam results.

MM spoke to several individuals at Oldham Hulme Grammar School, which appears to have found a compromise, keeping mobile phones out of the classroom whilst also allowing pupils to use the internet for educational purposes in lessons.

The answer is this: laptops. Students at the school are able to utilise Chromebooks during their lessons, whilst their phones are in their lockers.

Deputy Principal, John Dalziel, said: “We prepare our students to write answers in exams, sometimes for three hours at a time, when very few of us write any more, other than perhaps to take notes of a lecture or meeting.”

He added: “These written answers are then scanned into a computer so that they can be marked online by an examiner.”


There is therefore a clear place for technology in the modern classroom, and this sort of preparation is necessary for the workplace.

Despite this though, Mr Dalziel does have some reservations about the rising prevalence of mobile phones, arguing that real human interaction is becoming increasingly less common, and young people need to be educated on how to put down or even switch off their phones so they can concentrate on something ‘real’.

Nevertheless, many students both at Oldham Hulme and across the country would vastly prefer to be allowed their phones, which are deeply ingrained in everyday life for most teenagers.

Many students do not possess watches, and so are left unable to tell the time during the school day. Furthermore, those questioned expressed a desire to use their phones in their free time, with one student saying that break time was “boring” without it.

Whilst schools may try to limit the amount of time their pupils spend on their phones, perhaps the most conclusive piece of evidence on the importance of phones in modern society is how much young people use them.

Out of the KS3 and KS4 pupils we surveyed, one third said they spent between four and five hours on their phones every day.

Therefore, whether we like it or not, mobile phones are here, and they’re here to stay.

Image courtesy of AFS-USA Intercultural Program via Flickr, with thanks.

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