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Education Secretary Gillian Keegan confirms complete mobile phone ban for schools

Mobile phones are to be banned in schools completely under new Government rules aimed at improving behaviour in the classroom.

Headteachers will be able to eliminate phones from the school day entirely – including breaks and lunchtimes – under new advice being given to them this week.

While use of mobiles in school is already tightly controlled by many leaders, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is introducing fresh guidance that now backs a ban for the whole school day.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan. Picture: Keith Heppell
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan. Picture: Keith Heppell

The rules, which will serve as guidance to schools rather than law, will ‘support’ headteachers, says the Government, which wishes to tighten existing policies or introduce new ones.

By the age of 12, 97% of children have their own mobile phone, says regulator Ofcom. But using devices in school ‘can lead to online bullying, distraction and classroom disruption’, say education ministers, who want to clamp down on issues that may lead to lost learning time for pupils.

Organisation Parentkind, which acts as a voice for parents in education, says families are concerned about phone use in school.

A report by the UN last summer called for a global ban on students using phones in schools. Image: iStock
A report by the UN last summer called for a global ban on students using phones in schools. Image: iStock

Chief executive Jason Elsom explained: “The Government is right to be taking decisive action on the use of phones in schools, with our research indicating that 44% of parents are concerned about the amount of time their children spend on electronic devices and more than three-quarters of parents support a ban on phones in schools. This is the number one concern for parents, according to the National Parent Survey.

“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.”

Implementing the ban

The new advice being circulated among school leaders means children can be barred from using their devices both in class and around school outside of lesson time. Any school that wants to implement such a ban or amend current policies will have the full support of the Government in doing so.

However, the new guidelines do allow for students to carry their phones with them – for use on their journey to and from school for safety reasons.

Guidance suggests banning devices completely on school grounds. Image: iStock
Guidance suggests banning devices completely on school grounds. Image: iStock

School leaders suggest the new rules can consider different approaches in deciding exactly how to ban children’s phones on school premises. This may include getting students to hand them in to staff on arrival or keeping phones securely locked away at school during the day.

Lockers with charging points, which keep phones out of sight and reach during the day, have been successfully adopted by some schools, explains the new guidance.

History of the ban

In 2019 then schools minister Nick Gibb first suggested the Government may lean towards advising on a complete ban on phones in schools.

In 2021 then Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he too felt ‘it was time to put the screens away’.

Writing in a national newspaper in the midst of the Covid pandemic, Mr Williamson said phones not only move children away from “exercise and good old-fashioned play” but were also one of the causes of cyber bullying and the inappropriate use of social media.

However, no progress was made after it was decided – following further investigation in February 2022 – that most schools already had ‘adequate’ measures in place to manage phone use and no blanket ban across England was felt necessary by ministers.

Yet a report from the UN, released last summer, called for a global ban on all mobile phone use in school – citing research that suggested the move would tackle classroom disruption, improve learning and protect youngsters from bullying.

And an announcement at last year’s Conservative Party conference followed, revealing that the Government was now considering a complete ban.

Gillian Keegan, who was appointed Education Secretary in October 2022, says phones have become an ‘unwanted distraction’.

She said: “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.”

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