The Phone-y War.

That Gavin Williamson is a genius. Quite who we have to thank for giving him a position of power is……., oh yes, I remember now. I’m being uncharacteristically flippant, in case you hadn’t guessed; there are remnants in the bottom of my food recycling bin with more charm, vitality and purpose than Gavin Williamson. There are tiny creatures that serve no greater good than to eat bacteria from the back end of a baboon that I would sooner trust with the educational welfare of this country than I would Gavin Williamson. Even at my dimmest I reckon even I could do a better job than him; and I don’t make that statement lightly. I’m not sure Gavin Williamson understands what he’s really said until it’s crawled out of his bent mouth and run a mile, and even then he wouldn’t have the wit to realise it was the wrong thing to say. And he runs the Department for Education. In a way.

Gavin’s great new idea is to ban pupils from having mobile phones in schools. Actually it probably wasn’t his idea, I reckon he snuck a look at what the kid next to him had written and decided to pass it off as his own. According to Gavin the children of this nation have become poorly disciplined as a result of lockdown, but that suggests he didn’t spend a whole lot of time with school kids before the lockdown. The real truth is that the children that were poorly disciplined before lockdown are now even worse. Is techno-feral a term? Naturally this will vary from region to region, town to town and school to school, but one thing is clear – mobile phones should never have been allowed in schools in the first place – and though this glassy eyed evolution is not Gavin Williamson’s fault you get the sense he isn’t the gunslinger to be dealing with it; even if he draws first he’ll find he forgot to puts the bullets in.

Gavin says that mobile phones reduce the amount of “healthy exercise and good old fashion play” that our kids get, though I’m not sure how much play is either good or old fashioned these days. If by trolling, up-skirting, bullying and abuse of all kinds of old fashioned kinds is what he means then maybe he has a point, but I get the feeling that persuading children to abandon their phones is like trying to prise a gun from a Texan: it ain’t gonna be easy. Fortunately Gavin has a plan, the same plan he has for all the shit jobs that he knows he won’t have to police himself – following consultation (and I use that word as a punchline that has crept into the middle of a joke) he will hand over the reigns to head teachers, promising to back those who implement the plans. I’m sure most secondary head teachers are really looking forward to preaching the word of the good Lord Williamson. I bet they can’t wait.

In principle the idea is a noble one (regardless of the cloak of ignobility that Williamson has draped around him, like a particularly toothless, impotent Dracula) but it will cause trouble, one suspects, and will also drain resources in exactly those schools which can’t afford to have them drained. It also doesn’t address a wider issue – why ban them in schools when those same children will still grow up and use them to distract and waste time in adulthood just the same? Besides, Gavin says we should be reducing screen time and yet all around us there are tech giants who keep telling us about the next ‘powerful tool’ that will allow IT to revolutionise the classroom. Interestingly enough there are plenty of schools that already prohibit the use of phones but the bigger question might be to ask just how much technology we really need to communicate and impart information effectively and, if possible, with joy in our hearts? Who knows? Not me. But Gavin’s idea feels a lot too little and a lot, lot too late. Still, it doesn’t matter as long as we have good old fashioned play to fall back on. I miss good old fashioned play. I’m glad it didn’t have a phone.

G B Hewitt. 07.04.2021

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