Ministers push ban on mobile phones in school – even on breaks

New guidance issued today also tells headteachers they should search students for devices as part of their school behaviour policy

Kate Devlin
Politics and Whitehall Editor
Monday 19 February 2024 00:05 GMT
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Schools in England have been told they should ban pupils from using mobile phones and start searching students for the devices.

Ministers want children to be barred from using devices on breaks as well as in class.

In new guidance, they say headteachers “can and should identify mobile phones … as something that may be searched for” as part of their school behaviour policy.

However, the guidance is non-statutory, meaning it is up to individual heads to decide their own policies and whether or not phones should be banned.

One union branded the move a “non-policy for a non-problem”, arguing that most schools already ban phones during school hours.

Unveiling the guidance, education secretary Gillian Keegan said schools were “places for children to learn and mobile phones are, at a minimum, an unwanted distraction in the classroom”. She said she was giving teachers the tools to improve behaviour and to “do what they do best – teach.”

The guidance warns that, in some schools, the use of mobile phones remains a “daily battle”.

It tells teachers that ministers believe “all schools should prohibit the use of mobile phones throughout the school day – not only during lessons but break and lunchtimes as well”.

New government guidance says headteachers ‘can and should identify mobile phones ... as something that may be searched for’ as part of their school behaviour policy (PA)

The government argues that removing mobile phones can help children and young people spend more time being active and socialising face to face with their peers, which will help their mental health.

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”.

It suggests four ways school can ban mobiles.

These include a rule of no mobiles on the school premises; that phones must be handed in on arrival; that they must be kept in a secure location, which the pupil does not access to, or that pupils can keep possession of their devices as long as they are “never used, seen or heard” – with strict consequences for breaches.

However, it also notes some circumstances where pupils with medical conditions should use a phone, including those with diabetes who might use an app to monitor their glucose.

The new guidance was hailed as a significant step by Ms Keegan, who originally pledged to bring forward reforms banning mobile phone use in schools at last October’s Tory conference.

Tom Bennett, who advises the Department for Education on behaviour, said: “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.”

The government pointed to recent official data that showed that nearly one in three – 29 per cent – secondary school pupils said mobile phones had been used when they were not supposed to be.

But the Association of School and College Leaders 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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