9 February 2018

School life is based upon a series of rituals and reoccurring milestones. Ill-fitting uniform on the first day of school. A new school bag. Replacing lost PE kit. The Christmas service at Durham Cathedral. First lessons in options subjects at GCSE and A Level. Last days of term. Results days. These rituals are long established at Durham Johnston and students quickly fall into a long standing pattern as each academic year develops. There are certain significant milestones for teachers too. The first class that you teach. The first books marked. New exam specifications and legislation. Saying goodbye to GCSE and A Level classes. Many of these are instantly familiar for students, parents, carers and teachers. There are other aspects of school life in 2018 that might not be as easily recognisable.  For our Form Tutors and Year Leaders there is a new ritual, one that did not exist in 1998 or 2008. It is the Monday morning, first day after half-term ritual of dealing with issues caused by mobile phones, or irresponsible social media use. A similar pattern is notable after weekends. Mobile phones are not allowed to be visible or used in school for a very good reason; their absence provides students with respite from constant communication and the possibility of negative social interaction with others. It also affords time to think. Students often write and post things that they would never say to others as part of a normal school day.

Our pastoral leaders will always investigate bullying and try to resolve friendship issues, but these problems are increasingly caused by poor decisions made outside of school. Naomi Greenaway’s Daily Telegraph article from December 2017 reflects an increasingly common view of the potential issues that can arise from young people having access to smart phones at too young an age:

Remember that feeling of having a bad day at school? Now imagine that day followed you home, continued to torment you all evening long – and was the first thing you woke up to the next morning. Remember that feeling of going into school on Monday morning and realising you’d been left out of an ‘evening in’ or a night out? Now imagine sitting in your bedroom watching the event unfold selfie by selfie, message by message?

There have been a variety of other articles and reports published in the last year that raise similar concerns. Unregulated mobile phone use can have a very detrimental impact upon self-esteem, health and the ability to empathise with others. Our reason for limiting mobile phone use in school is a desire to protect students. We would encourage parents to support us by taking a similar stance.

Mr O’Sullivan