Education secretary defends banning mobile phones from school while MPs seen scrolling in Parliament

19 February 2024, 08:21

Keegan and child with a phone
Mobile phones will be banned in schools under new guidance by the Department for Education seeking to fulfil a pledge made last year. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Education secretary Gillian Keegan has defended her bid to ban children from using phones in school - despite MPs in the Commons often being seen on their devices during important debates.

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New guidance instructs England's headteachers on how to ban the use of phones not only during lessons but during break and lunch periods as well.

Ms Keegan told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that schools that have implemented blanket no-phone policies have seen improvements in behaviour.

But she had to defend the ban given how often MPs are seen scrolling during Commons clashes.

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari speaks to Security of State for Education Gillian Keegan | 19/02/24

"Children need to be in the classroom, and they need to be learning and not distracted in the classroom, and not subject to the amplification of bullying on social media," she said.

"In terms of mobile phone use in the chamber, I think this has been debated… I do think if there is a debate going on, in the same way we don't want children distracted in the classroom, if you're going to be part of a debate you ought to be listening to the debate."

Read more: Mobile phones to be banned in 'all schools in England' as Keegan vows to 'give teachers tools they need'

She told Nick: "We think those schools that have done it have seen a marked improvement in behaviour, in outcomes, in school culture… it's good for children’s mental health.

"There's nothing worse than having people ostracise you via he mobile phone, or bullying you via the mobile phone, when you're in school."

In England, it is up to individual heads to decide their own policies on mobile phones and whether they should be banned.

Cabinet Meeting in Downing Street
The new document was hailed by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, who has spearheaded the push to ban the devices from schools in England. Picture: Getty

In a foreword to the new guidance, Ms Keegan said it would provide "clarity and consistency" for teachers and that there is currently "a large variation in how different schools are managing the use of mobile phones".

Tom Bennet, who advises the Department for Education on behaviour, said: "Mobile phones may be ubiquitous, but we have a strong and growing understanding of how damaging they can be for a child's social and educational development.

High School Exams 2022
In a foreword to the document, Ms Keegan said it would provide "clarity and consistency" for teachers and that there is currently "a large variation in how different schools are managing the use of mobile phones". Picture: Getty

"And it's the least advantaged who suffer most. Many schools already have some kind of policy on phones, but this guidance provides a clear steer for everyone, including parents, about what's right and what's not for the wellbeing of the child."

But the Association of School and College Leaders said it did not expect the new guidance to make any discernible impact.

General Secretary Geoff Barton said that the "compulsive use" of devices was not happening in schools but "while children are out of school".

He said: "Most schools already forbid the use of mobile phones during the school day or allow their use only in limited and stipulated circumstances.

"We have lost count of the number of times that ministers have now announced a crackdown on mobile phones in schools. It is a non-policy for a non-problem.

"The Government would be far better off putting its energies into bringing to heel the online platforms via which children are able to access disturbing and extreme content."

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