Rhiannon Williams

Off days

Meet the headteachers questioning the value of the digital detox

The modern school is, unsurprisingly, a very different place to even ten years ago — largely thanks to the rise of technology. Where corridors once rang with the sound of laughter, they now buzz with the ping, ping, ping of WhatsApps, Snapchats and texts as students message each other in an ever-revolving cycle of communication. While the leisurely use of smartphones in the classroom is a universal no-no, some schools have taken matters into their own hands to focus pupils’ minds and improve their performance by issuing blanket digital detoxes across the board. But are they right to do so?

In January, headmaster Gregg Davies made headlines with his decision to ban pupils at Shiplake College in Henley-on-Thames from using their phones between 8.15 a.m. and 5.45 p.m. Restricting pupils who board to using mobiles only in the evening meant they were more likely to enjoy longer lunches and ‘actual conversations’, he claimed, adding that increased interaction with their friends had ‘relieved the pressure of constantly showcasing life online’.

Stroud High School in Gloucestershire brought in a permanent ban not only on smartphones but fitness trackers and smartwatches as well — and many other schools are following suit. Nadine Moore, the school’s assistant headteacher, wrote a letter to parents describing the pressures of social media and constant connectivity on today’s teenagers. ‘Seeing friends constantly “having fun” can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life,’ she wrote. ‘While for many young people fear of missing out may not be a problem, for others it is causing them distress in the form of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.’

While such wide-ranging bans may seem to be on the extreme end of the scale, Max Haimendorf, principal of King Solomon Academy (KSA) in Marylebone, has gained notoriety as the man willing to confiscate pupils’ games consoles and other electronics from their homes (with their parents’ blessing).

‘What has happened more than once is that the parent has come into the school and said, “I do not want my child using this.

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