Government calls for mobile phone ban

Mobile phone use should be banned in schools across England to ‘improve behaviour’, the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan announced yesterday (2 October).

New guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) will support headteachers in banning mobile phone use throughout the school day, including at break times, to tackle disruptive behaviour and online bullying while boosting attention during lessons.

Dr Peter Macauley, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Derby, said: “Given the relatively high prevalence rates of cyberbullying, the ban of mobile phone use during the school day will have varying ramifications for young people, teachers, and parents/guardians. 

“Experiencing cyberbullying is associated with lower school adjustment, poorer academic performance, and a reduced sense of belonging in the classroom. On the one hand, the ban of mobile phone use during the school day will limit opportunity for young people to bully others online. It will also reduce distraction in and between lessons throughout the school day, promoting a more positive classroom climate. 

“While cyberbullying is more likely to occur outside the school environment, it is often the negative impact associated with involvement that spills into the school. With the ban of mobile phones, even if cyberbullying is still happening outside the school environment, the outcome of a more positive classroom environment due to a no phone policy means that adolescents who experience cyberbullying will display lower levels of cognitive-behavioural disengagement. 

“On the other hand, the ban of mobile phones in school may indirectly promote other forms of bullying and disruptive behaviour throughout the school day. For example, cases of traditional bullying (i.e., physical, verbal, or relational forms of bullying) may increase as a way for bullies to continue targeting their victims.”

The move will bring England in one with other counties that have already implemented a ban, including France, Italy and Portugal. It follows warnings from the United Nations on the risks of smartphones in schools and government data that found around a third of secondary school pupils reported mobile phones being used when they were not supposed to in most, or all, lessons.

The government said that if schools fail to implement the new guidance, it will consider legislating it in the future to make the guidance statutory.

The guidance will set out limited exemptions where necessary, like where children require their phones for medical reasons.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union commented on the news, saying: “Most schools already have clear policies around mobile phone use and review them regularly. Schools have been dealing with the issue of mobile phones for many years so it is very hard to see what this latest government guidance will actually achieve.

“Schools have been crying out for guidance they actually do need on complex issues such as how best to support transgender pupils, instead they are offered this.

“We are also concerned that a blanket ban won’t work for all schools – we query whether this new policy has actually been sense checked at all with the profession.

“Unfortunately, a ban on mobile phones in school can cause more problems than it solves, leading to pupils becoming more secretive about their phone use, meaning problems are hidden from staff and therefore more difficult to spot and address.

“Individual schools know their pupils and communities, so are best placed to develop their own policies when it comes to mobile phones in schools, according to what works for them and for pupils’ education and wellbeing.

“This announcement could present a big challenge for schools. We are not sure how it would work in practice and how it could be successfully implemented in a wide range of schools. Most young people won’t just stop bringing their phones to school, and there could be parental opposition too, as there are practical reasons why pupils may need a mobile phone such as while travelling to and from school.

“Schools help to prepare young people for the outside world, and this includes equipping them with awareness and strategies to responsibly monitor their own screen use and to focus on their work despite the distractions of the modern world.”

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