Bans don’t work…

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We thought it about time we did a blog again after a couple of months’ absence and whilst there’s been loads of recent news to keep us occupied and grab the attention, I want to return to a piece from the Observer in May about mobile phone use and achievement in schools (although I’m sure it would apply to those at work and in self-employment too!).

At the London School of Economics, two researchers Louis-Phillippe Beland and Richard Murphy have published their research paper into education and the mobile phone – ‘Ill Communication: The impact Of Mobile Phones on Student performance’ (2015). This study, carried out in London, Manchester, Leicester and Birmingham, studied 16 year olds with mobile phones and their relative performance in schools that did, and those that did not, ban the use of mobile phones in school.

The study found that in the schools where there was a ban that was observed, test-score performance improved by 6.4% at age 16, which the LSE team equated to ‘about a week extra in school’ (or maybe a week that wasn’t wasted?!). More interesting than this, in my view, was that the performance of high-achievers was not much affected by a mobile phone ban, but when other factors are included (gender,  Eligibility for free school meals and special educational needs statements)those from disadvantaged backgrounds and with educational difficulties achieved higher under a ban that other comparable students with no ban.

So, BAN THE PHONE then, I hear you cry. That’ll stop the little brats messing about on social media instead of learning stuff won’t it!?

Or will it?

After having worked with thousands of students, teachers and employees in over a thousand schools and businesses my feeling is that, according to all human nature, once something is banned / given up / foregone that something immediately becomes THE ONLY THING you can think about! What about the Lent ‘giving up chocolate / wine / sweets / Netflix’ scenario or Dry January or ‘the diet’ – all you can think about is what you’re missing out on isn’t it!?

I reckon in most places, if you introduce a BAN then you get hundreds of people working out how to get round the ban, rather than focusing on the thing they are supposed to be there for – eg: learning useful information and getting qualifications. (Reference Prohibition in American History for examples of how inventive people can be to avoid a ban!)


Well, there is some very compelling data in the LSE study about why it’s important to reduce mobile phone use in schools (and lives to be honest) but just taking that data as a school / college and saying “right you’re banned from bringing phones in here…” is likely to get a very hostile reception (except possibly from new students who know no different), so a different (scary and time-consuming) approach may be needed.

  • What if students were presented with the data and then asked whether they thought it was interesting?
  • What if the students were balloted on whether mobile phone bans / usage / storage was a good thing?
  • What if students were shown what the data means – eg: an extra 6.4% could mean the difference between a D and a C grade, a B and an A and then what THAT means – eg: going to a better university and thence to a better job / career?

I know that all of this is dependent on each school’s approach to the use of mobile phones and the SLT’s general approach to discipline and rules, but I’d be willing to bet that if people are confronted with facts as compelling as those from the LSE research, then more would be willing to adopt a restriction in use of their phones now, to secure a brighter future in the long term. It’s about taking responsibility for yourself really.



Twitter: @EnterpriseSBox

NB: We talk about taking responsibility and seeing the ‘bigger picture’ a lot in our #LAUNCH motivation workshop which is perfect for a kick start to your students’ academic year.