Special classes at Gants Hill school to tackle effects of ‘unhealthy’ tech use

A child using an Apple iPad tablet. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire/Press Association Images

A child using an Apple iPad tablet. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire/Press Association Images - Credit: PA WIRE

A headteacher has defended his controversial verdict that constant use of digital technology such as iPads and iPhones are slowing pupils’ development.

Bob Drew, of Gearies Primary School, Waremead Road, Gants Hill, has started special lessons for children, which his staff believe to be underdeveloped.

Teachers at Gearies noticed a decline in the quality of handwriting in four-year-old children joining the school, but now the headteacher is sure he has found the root of the problem.

“We’ve seen parents bringing in young kids in prams playing on mobile phones. This isn’t healthy – talk to your children,” he said.

“It’s a malaise of parents wanting to do the right thing, but not being well-informed.”

It is this lack of balance between digital and physical exercise that Mr Drew argues is leading many children to go to school without the ability to properly grip a pen or pencil.

To combat this, Gearies, which was graded outstanding in an Ofsted report last year, has started running sessions for children whose physical development is a matter of concern.

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The sessions are timetabled as part of the school day, usually involve six or seven pupils, and the exercise program can run for up to 12 weeks.

“They run about, they do some push ups and other exercises. Usually if they keep at it for a while it gets better,” said Mr Drew.

Cllr David Bromiley (Fullwell, Cons), a former Gearies pupil who sits on Redbridge Council’s Children and Young People Committee, backed Mr Drew’s comments.

The councillor, who is also a teacher himself, said: “With the new Ofsted criteria they’re looking increasingly at student progress, which means not just what they see in lessons now, but also looking at pupils’ books. That includes their handwriting.”

The councillor, who teaches at Kingsford Community School in Newham, also argued that playing on tablets and computers from an early age has ruined children’s attention spans.

“The main thing is going back to the old fashioned way of actually reading with your children. Read whatever you want, but do it with the children.

“You need to build up their attention spans.”

Mr Drew said that while he understood working parents might be enticed by the quick fix of handing their child a tablet or smartphone, it was proving detrimental in the long term.

“Instead of spending a couple of hundred pounds on an iPad this Christmas, get them a cardboard box.

“Hours of fun can be had with some pens and paper. Their imagination is their greatest resource.”