The Department for Education has announced a ban on mobile phone usage in schools, and we asked parents and parenting experts to weigh in...
Most schools already have their own rules restricting mobile phone usage, but new guidance from the Department for Education is set to enforce the practice across England, in a bid to improve behaviour among pupils. Much like the recently announced vape ban and the wet wipes ban, the news has been met with mixed reactions. Some think it's a step in the right direction for tackling disruptive behaviour, while others feel this is an issue schools already tackle adequately on their own, and that the government announcement is a distraction from other issues currently affecting the education system, such as teacher shortages.
As parenting specialist, Kirsty Ketley, tells us, "In all honesty, this policy is pretty much already in place in schools. While I don't know of a blanket outright ban on phones, schools have already put policies in place to minimise phone use within the school day. Some allow phones at break and lunchtime only, for instance, and I think if you ask any headteacher, (my husband is a deputy head teacher of a senior school) they will all agree that phones in school are not the cause of behaviour problems, which has been suggested. Phones, we know, are a huge problem when it comes to bullying, but that happens outside of school."
It's important to note that there are no plans to completely ban pupils from bringing their phones into schools - so they can still use their devices on journeys to and from school - but that usage will be forbidden throughout the school day, including at break times. Here's everything you need to know about the ban on mobile phones in schools...
Are mobile phones being banned in schools in the UK?
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has announced that mobile phone use will be banned in schools across England. This means that new guidance from the Department for Education will back head teachers in banning mobile phone use throughout the school day, including at break times.
The new guidance, which will not be legally binding, will allow pupils to bring their phones to school for use on journeys there and back, but they will not be allowed to use them during the school day.
If schools fail to implement the new guidance, the government will consider legislating in the future to make the guidance statutory.
However, this is not the first time a ban has been proposed, with schools minister Nick Gibb calling for a mobile phone ban in 2019 and Sir Gavin Williamson following suit in 2021. But a consultation by the Department for Education concluded most schools "have well-developed plans in place" to tackle the issue, adding: "Further intervention from government isn't necessary."
Meanwhile, there are currently no complete bans on mobile phones in schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - where decisions on education are made separately from the UK government.
Why are mobile phones being banned in schools?
The Department for Education has made the decision to ban mobile phones in schools to tackle disruptive behaviour and online bullying, while boosting attention during lessons.
In a statement, the government department added, "It aims to support the wider work the government is doing to raise standards in schools by increasing students' focus and reducing distractions."
In her speech at the Conservative Party conference on Monday 2 October, Gillian Keegan said: "Today, one of the biggest issues facing children and teachers is grappling with the impact of smartphones in our schools.
"The distraction, the disruption, the bullying. We know that teachers are struggling with their impact and we know that they need support.
"So, today we are recognising the amazing work that many schools have done in banning mobile phones and we are announcing that we will change guidance so that all schools will follow their lead."
We know that mobile phones are a source of distraction and bullying in the classroomYet, 40% of 14-year-olds report that their lessons were disrupted by phonesSo today, we’re banning phones in schoolsThe @Conservatives are taking long-term decisions for a brighter future pic.twitter.com/yrUyYSxMFnOctober 2, 2023
The move will bring England in line with other countries that have already implemented a ban, including France, Italy and Portugal, and follows warnings from the United Nations on the risks of smartphones in schools.
Meanwhile, recent government data found that 29% of secondary school pupils reported mobile phones being used when they were not supposed to in most, or all, lessons.
What are the rules around mobile phone usage in schools?
The Department for Education has announced a ban on all mobile phone usage in schools - including at break times. Until now, individual schools have set their policies about what is and isn't allowed when it comes to pupils using their phones.
Some schools allow pupils to use their phones at break - some even let older students use them to help with research during lesson time - while others expect pupils to hand in their phones at the beginning of the day and collect them when they leave.
Mum-of-two, Bonnie, told us, "The boys' school allow phones from Year 8. They are allowed to have them on themselves during break time, but they hand them in in the morning and then pick them up for break or at the end of the day."
She adds, "They teach them to be sensible and have boundaries, and if they ever take a phone in class or have one switched on in class, it’s confiscated until the end of the day and there are consequences. All teachers hand their phones in at the start of each day too."
The government provides guidance to schools on confiscating items too, and with regard to electronic devices the guidance states, "Schools' general power to discipline enables a member of staff to confiscate, retain or dispose of a pupil’s property as a disciplinary penalty, where reasonable to do so."
Should mobile phones be banned in schools?
Whether mobile phones should be banned in schools is up for debate. The Department for Education has laid out its aim to reduce distractions and disruptive behaviour with the ban, but most schools already have their own restrictions on phone usage in place.
For this reason, critics argue that the ban is a political stunt, designed to distract from other issues in the education system - such as the shortage of teachers and disputes over pay that led to the teacher strikes, and the revelation that 174 schools are affected by RAAC, a potentially dangerous concrete that forced some sites to close at the start of term.
Goodto Deputy Editor and mum-of-three, Heidi Scrimgeour, says, "Personally, I don’t know of a single secondary school that doesn’t already have a very clear policy limiting the use of mobile phones in school, with outright bans in place during lessons - my teenagers used to come home every day with a story of a kid getting their phone confiscated for trying to use it in class."
She adds, "I agree with the critics who think this is a shameless attempt by the government to grab headlines and distract us all from the real issues that need addressing. What about the vaping problem in schools? The fact that school buildings are literally crumbling? The teacher shortage? The ongoing but largely unacknowledged impact of the pandemic on kids, which continues to affect both academic progress and mental health?
"Should phones be banned in schools? They pretty much already are. Instead, perhaps the government should spend some time in schools understanding what the real problems are."
There is no mobile phones crisis in schools. Every school I know has a wise mobile phone policy in place. So talking about a ban simply uses up valuable time that should used addressing the real issues…like teacher recruitment & retention or diversity & inclusion, for instance.October 2, 2023
The school mobile phone ban *feels* like something I should be against.I'm pro-freedom, pro-autonomy, pro-technology.And yet... I think it's a great idea.October 2, 2023
We asked Goodto readers what they think of the mobile phone ban. In a poll, 45% agreed that phones shouldn't be used in the classroom, but many felt that kids should still have access to their phones during the day - with 36% saying phones shouldn't be completely banned from schools, for safety reasons.
One reader said, "During 'learning' time yes [phones should be banned], but not as a whole. Kids need to communicate with parents/peers," while another added, "[Phones] should be accessible in emergencies but absolutely not used socially in the day".
But others felt a total ban would be a step in the right direction, with one reader writing in to say, "There was a generation that grew up with none of the technology of today and survived".
Meanwhile, some were more concerned by the practicality of the ban. One Goodto reader who shared their view on Instagram said, "It's unrealistic. How would it even be 'policed' or enforced?"
For others, it's not phone usage in itself that should be banned, but instead pupils should be taught what is and isn't appropriate while at school. This is something that parenting specialist Kirsty Ketley agrees with.
She says, "My own kids are in Year 2 and Year 6 - so no phones yet - but my Year 6 daughter will be having her first phone within the next year, as she starts senior school next September. I think it will be useful to ping her a message at lunch to remind her of things or get a message to her, rather than getting the school office to have to track her down.
"But, the biggest thing we will be doing is instilling boundaries on her phone usage, so that she doesn't rely on it to pacify herself, and that she understands how to manage group chats and any form of bullying she may receive. Because what Gillian Keegan is highlighting is more an issue with which parents need to take responsibility for, and not school."
Kirsty Ketley is a parenting specialist who has worked with children and their families for over 25 years. Based in Surrey, Kirsty is also mum to Ella, 10.5 years and Leo, 6 years.
if you've got school age children, we've got loads of helpful information for parents on our Back to School Month page. From settling in ideas and tips for handling the 'Sunday Scaries' to advice on navigating packed lunches and supporting your child through A-levels, there's something for parents of all age groups.
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