Mobile phones could potentially be banned in schools across England as early as January 2022.
The ban, alongside other measures aiming to promote “calm classrooms”, are being considered as part of a consultation on behaviour and discipline in schools.
Mobile phones are ‘distracting’
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson launched a call for evidence asking teachers, parents and staff for their views and policies on good behaviour.
The six week consultation, launched on Tuesday 29 June, will seek views on the removal of mobile phones, as well as other measures.
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 opportunities for all young people, we need to ensure they can benefit from calm classrooms which support them to thrive.”
The move follows the announcement from the Department for Education of its £10 million “behaviour hub” programme.
The consultation comes ahead of planned updates to government guidance later this year on behaviour, discipline, suspensions and permanent exclusions.
Some schools and teaching unions have pushed back on the potential move, stating that mobile phone usage is a matter for individual schools and not governmental policies.
‘Smartphones should be left at home’
She said: “The new move is helpful. I think it’s generally a positive thing, it’s something lots of us have been doing for a while and I think there is a general groundswell of support for it.
“If you look at France, they’ve had a mobile phone ban in place for three years and I think it’s gone very well. It’s a bit of a non-issue and I’m pretty sure that’s how it will be for here.”
Dame Rachel explained that a ban in England would require “Wi-Fi connectable smartphones to be left at home, or not used or taken out of the bag during school hours”.
She said: “It’s a distraction in the school provided by that internet connection and all the harms that can do with it.
“We know that many underage children are accessing things they shouldn’t on the internet, and let’s just keep it out of school frankly.”
Dame Rachel added that banning phones in school would “take away the pressure a bit from parents, with younger and younger children having to be bought these handsets that are not cheap”.
She said that it would also help “local policing not to have children walking to and from school with hundreds of pounds worth of handheld technology which could easily be a focus for pickpockets”.
Banning phones could ‘cause more problems than it solves’
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) accused 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.”