There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that unrestricted access to social media is not good for girls. Last year, for example, the Millennium Cohort Study (a major research project into children’s lives involving interviews with 11,000 14-year-olds) found that, not only do girls spend far more time using social media than boys, but they are much more likely to display signs of depression linked to their interaction on such platforms as Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook. When you combine this with the reality that social media is now an inextricable part of the childhood experience (the 2019 Girls’ Attitudes Survey found that 45% of girls and women aged 11 to 21 feel the need to check their phones first thing in the morning and last thing at night) we have a problem. Such statistics explain the rationale behind our decision to limit access to social media during the school day by restricting the use of mobile phones.

However, as I discovered yesterday, this is only half the story. There is no denying the destructive power of social media, but this same power, when harnessed effectively, can be a force for good. Thursday saw the first meeting of my newly-formed (and aptly-named) ‘Social Media Advisory Committee’. In response to the coronavirus crisis, and an acknowledgement that school closures may give pupils unrestricted access to their mobile phones during the (virtual) school day, I invited pupils to advise me on how social media could be utilised as a learning tool. Pupils from Years 8 to Year 12 came together to share their experiences.

As usual, the girls are one step ahead.

While teachers are busy grappling with the concept of ‘remote learning’, the girls are planning to do exactly what they do every day: access a wealth of knowledge through WhatsApp groups; post work for peer feedback on Instagram; follow-up with individuals on video calls; answer each other’s questions; support each other when stuck; prompt each other when deadlines are looming; help each other through it all. There were tales of Latin translations, arrived at through a collective endeavour involving an entire class and multiple tweaks and edits; an A Level Chemistry group using Instagram to post problems and check progress; a Google Doc bringing a poem to life.

In fact, our pupils are so immersed in this virtual world, that their minds have already turned to higher things – like happiness and wellbeing. If social media is bad for girls’ mental health, then the girls I spoke to yesterday have found a solution: give it purpose. One of the most helpful suggestions for remote learning was that teachers should be encouraged to set group work: individuals can be assigned to a team, forcing people to come together online, and ensuring that everyone is included.

Girls get a bad press for forming cliques and friendship groups that are exclusive, and social media has been blamed for exacerbating such tendencies. However, yesterday’s meeting offered an alternative perspective.

Our girls are wise, thoughtful, compassionate and inclusive, and they understand why these qualities are important in the virtual realm.

They are the ultimate IT crowd.