Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, declared that new guidance would be issued “shortly” to ban mobile phone usage during the entire school day. Announced at the Conservative Party conference, the ban aims to not only prevent use of phones during lessons, but also at break and lunchtimes.
The guidance was justified on the grounds of raising standards, through increasing focus by reducing the distractions that phones can create. There was also the claim that a ban on phones could prevent online bullying. A UN report reached a similar conclusion – banning phones could protect children and prevent disruptions. Bans already exist in France, Italy and Portugal, with a ban being introduced in the Netherlands in 2024.
A UN report reached a similar conclusion – banning phones could protect children [from bullying] and prevent disruptions
However, according to research from the Department for Education (DfE) in 2018, 95% of schools already control the use of phones to some extent. As the new ban remains as guidance, rather than law, schools are not enforced to make these changes. The call to ban phones is not new: in 2019, schools minister Nick Gibb called for phones to be banned, and this was echoed by Sir Gavin Williamson in 2021. Yet, following a consultation by the DfE in 2022, it was concluded that “further intervention from the government isn’t necessary” for a blanket ban of phones in schools.
There has also been scrutiny on the nature of the ban, as it fails to account for differing student needs. Carers’ Trust CEO, Kirsty McHugh, campaigned that there should be an exemption for young carers, as “An outright ban would make it impossible for them to stay in touch with the family members they look after.”
In the initial report on the guidance, there was indication that if schools do not implement a ban, “the government will consider legislating in the future.” However, at this point, the guidance remains limited, and many teachers feel that this move was a distraction from the real behaviour challenges facing schools.
Dr Patrick Roach, the general secretary of NASUWT teaching union, stated “The government needs to focus on properly supporting the work of teachers and headteachers rather than announcements designed to detract attention from more than a decade of policy failure.” In December 2022, a Schools Bill was scrapped, which could have provided further legislation to bolster safeguarding.
The government needs to focus on properly supporting the work of teachers and headteachers rather than announcements designed to detract attention from more than a decade of policy failure.Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of NASUWT
Though Gillian Keegan was keen to present this guidance as novel and a boost for schools, the initial response from teachers and unions reflects that mobile phones are not what the government should be focusing on to improve standards in schools.