'Non-policy for a non-problem': Teachers given new advice to tackle mobile phones in schools

By John Mercury February 19, 2024

Headteachers in England have been given advice on how to ban mobile phones from school classrooms under government plans dismissed by one teaching union as a “non-policy for a non-problem”.

Guidance issued by ministers on Monday includes how to search students and their bags for devices “if necessary”.

Headteachers “can and should identify mobile phones and similar devices as something that may be searched for in their school behaviour policy,” it said.

But it will still be up to individual heads to decide their own policies and whether or not phones should be banned, because the instructions are non-statutory.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan promised to ban the use of phones in schools at the Conservative Party annual conference in October.

In a foreword to the policy document published on Monday, Ms Keegan said it would provide “clarity and consistency” for teachers and address “a large variation in how different schools are managing the use of mobile phones”.

Ms Keegan said in a statement: “Schools are places for children to learn and mobile phones are, at a minimum, an unwanted distraction in the classroom.

“We are giving our hard-working teachers the tools to take action to help improve behaviour and to allow them to do what they do best – teach.”

Tom Bennett, who advises the education department 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.

“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.”

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Nearly a third (29%) of secondary school pupils knew of mobiles being used when they were not permitted, according to recent official data, ministers said.

But unions were sceptical of the plans making much difference.

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Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said children are using devices excessively when they 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.”

Jason Elsom, chief executive of Parentkind, welcomed the plans. Recent research by the education charity found that 44% of parents are “concerned” about the amount of time their children spend on electronic devices.

“Society has sleepwalked into a position where children are addicted to harmful ‘electronic drugs’, and have no escape from their digital dealers, not even within the relatively safe grounds of their schools,” he said.


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