Schools given new guidance on stopping phone use

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By Christy Cooney
BBC News

Schools in England have been given new guidance intended to stop the use of mobile phones during the school day.

The government said the move was part of a plan to “minimise disruption and improve behaviour in classrooms”.

It added that many schools had already banned phones and the change would ensure a consistent approach.

But one school leaders union said the most compulsive use of phones happened out of school and called the change a “non-policy for a non-problem”.

The guidance comes almost three years after the government first called for a ban on phones in schools.

Addressing the Conservative Party conference last October, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said many schools had done “amazing work” in banning phones and pledged to ensure that “all schools follow their lead”.

The guidance sets out a number of examples to illustrate how a phone-free environment could be achieved, including a total ban on phones on schools premises or rules requiring that phones are handed in at the start of the day.

It also says schools could allow pupils to keep possession of their phones but “only on the strict condition that they are never used, seen, or heard” during the day.

The guidance states that school leaders should “develop and implement a policy… which reflects their school’s individual contexts and needs”.

It adds that schools have a legal duty to ensure pupils’ welfare and that stopping phone use during the day is “essential” to ensuring teachers can deliver the curriculum.

Headteachers are also reminded that they are allowed to search pupils for items banned under schools rules and have legal protection from being sued over loss or damage to confiscated items.

Announcing the policy, Ms Keegan said that “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,” she said.

The government also cited a survey of secondary school pupils in which 29% of respondents reported phones being used when they were not supposed to be in most or all lessons.

But the Association of School and College Leaders union said it did not expect the new guidance to have any discernible effect.

“Most schools already forbid the use of mobile phones during the school day or allow their use only in limited and stipulated circumstances,” said General Secretary Geoff Barton.

“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.”

The announcement comes shortly after Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered teenager Brianna Ghey, called for changes to the law to stop children having access to social media apps on their phones.

She called for a law to be introduced so that there are mobile phones that are only suitable for under-16s – an idea backed by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza.

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