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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Peter Walker Deputy political editor

Ministers confirm plan to ban use of mobile phones in schools in England

Three schoolboys leaving school with their teachers behind them. They are all holding mobile phones and smiling; they wear bright blue blazers, pale blue shirts and blue ties
Schools will be able to implement the ban in different ways, from orders to leave all phones at home to allowing pupils to keep them on condition they are not used or heard. Photograph: SolStock/Getty Images

Ministers have confirmed plans to ban the use of mobile phones in English schools, releasing guidance for headteachers that some unions said included practices that had already been widely adopted.

However, one headteacher welcomed the Department for Education (DfE) plan, saying it would help give schools the confidence to make a change that would benefit pupils but could meet resistance from parents.

The guidance is not statutory, and offers schools a variety of ways to implement the ban, ranging from an order to leave all phones at home, to handing them in on arrival or keeping them in inaccessible lockers, or allowing students to keep them on condition they are not used or heard.

The proliferation of smartphones in schools – Ofcom data says 97% of children have one by the age of 12 – has brought concerns about not just distraction but the potential for bullying or other social pressure.

In interviews on Monday about the plan, Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said the DfE had consulted headteachers and believed the guidance would “empower” those yet to fully ban phones, and “would send a clear message about consistency”.

“You go to school, you go to learn, you go to create those friendships, you go to speak to people and socialise and you go to get educated – you don’t go to sit on your mobile phone or to send messages whilst you could actually talk to somebody,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

There is also wider concern about phone use by children and the harmful content they can access. Esther Ghey, mother of the murdered teenager Brianna Ghey, has called for tech companies to do more on this, and for under-16s to be stopped from accessing social media.

Ghey has also argued for phone manufacturers to make specific products for under-16s that prevent them from accessing harmful content, after it emerged that her daughter’s killers viewed violent material before the murder.

Keegan told Today that while ministers would discuss the idea with Ghey, “it’s not something that we have actually looked at or considered and those conversations will take place”.

The 13-page DfE guidance says the policy on phones should be clearly communicated to pupils, with the reasons for it also explained. It adds that teachers should not be seen in schools using a phone except when necessary for work.

Parents also needed to be involved in the ban, it says, with a reminder that they should contact students via the school office rather than directly.

A teenage girl with long, tied-back braids leaning up against red lockers in her school; she is looking down at her phone looking sad, and wears a white school shirt and black skirt
Students at a school where a complete ban on phones had been imposed felt ‘the social pressure had been removed’, one principal said. Photograph: SolStock/Getty Images

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that while the amount of time some children spend on phones was a worry, the new guidance was “a non-policy for a non-problem”.

He said: “This compulsive use of these devices is not something that is happening in schools – where robust polices are already in place – but while children are out of school. Most schools already forbid the use of mobile phones during the school day or allow their use only in limited and stipulated circumstances.”

Daniel Kebede, the general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “As most schools already have policies in place to deal with the problems of mobile phone use this guidance will make little difference and is a distraction from the many problems facing education.”

However, Vic Goddard, the executive principal of two schools in Esssex, including Passmores academy in Harlow, which featured in Channel 4’s Educating Essex series, said Passmores had recently imposed a complete ban on phones, which he said had been transformative, with a positive response from parents and students.

“We had very few parental issues, when we thought we would,” he said. “The students felt the social pressure had been removed from them. Without a doubt this guidance will help schools. The problem we have is that anything which might put us in conflict with parents is always going to be challenging.

“We have a generation of parents who weren’t born with phones. We thought that giving children a phone was keeping them safe, when the reality was it was opening them to a world of online harm and pressure.”

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