Education Secretary considering banning mobile phones in schools

29 June 2021, 00:27 | Updated: 29 June 2021, 11:06

Gavin Williamson said he wants to make the school day mobile-free
Gavin Williamson said he wants to make the school day mobile-free. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Banning mobile phones in schools is one of a number of measures being considered by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to promote "calm classrooms".

Mr Williamson said he wants to make the school day mobile-free, describing the devices as "not just distracting" but also potentially "damaging" when misused.

Critics say the issue of mobile phones is an "operational decision for schools, not something that can be micromanaged from Westminster".

The idea is being considered as part of a six-week consultation, launched on Tuesday, seeking the views of teachers, parents and other staff on how to manage good behaviour.

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The call for evidence comes ahead of planned updates to government guidance later this year on behaviour, discipline, suspensions and permanent exclusions.

The Department for Education (DfE) has already announced details of its £10 million "behaviour hub" programme.

Headteachers and behaviour specialists from 22 "lead schools" and two academy chains with strong reputations for behaviour are mentoring and supporting schools struggling with poor discipline as part of the scheme.

The chosen schools are advising on a variety of issues - ranging from setting clear expectations to eliminate low-level disruption in classrooms, to more systematic approaches to maintaining order across the school, including forbidding the use of mobile phones and maintaining quiet corridors.

As part of the consultation, respondents will be asked how schools' behaviour policies and approaches have changed amid the pandemic and what successful practices they intend to keep up.

Mr Williamson said: "No parent wants to send their child to a school where poor behaviour is rife. Every school should be a safe place that allows young people to thrive and teachers to excel.

"Mobile phones are not just distracting, but when misused or overused, they can have a damaging effect on a pupil's mental health and wellbeing. I want to put an end to this, making the school day mobile-free.

"In order for us to help pupils overcome the challenges from the pandemic and level up opportunity for all young people, we need to ensure they can benefit from calm classrooms which support them to thrive."

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) accused Mr Williamson of "playing to backbenchers" with his plans.

General secretary Geoff Barton said: "The Education Secretary appears to be obsessed with the subject of mobile phones in schools. In reality, every school will already have a robust policy on the use of mobile phones; it isn't some sort of digital free-for-all.

"Approaches will vary between settings and contexts, but this is an operational decision for schools, not something that can be micromanaged from Westminster.

"Frankly, school and college leaders would prefer the Education Secretary to be delivering an ambitious post-pandemic recovery plan and setting out how he intends to minimise educational disruption next term, rather than playing to backbenchers on the subject of behaviour."

Sarah Hannafin, senior policy advisor for school leaders' union NAHT, added: "Mobile phone bans work for some schools but there isn't one policy that will work for all schools.

"Outright banning mobile phones can cause more problems than it solves, driving phone use 'underground' and making problems less visible and obvious for schools to tackle."