Mobile phones to be banned in state school classrooms

Mobile phones will be banned from state school classrooms, the education secretary will announce today.

Gillian Keegan is set to ban smartphones from classrooms both during lessons and in breaktimes to ensure pupils can concentrate, the Daily Mail reported.

Sources close to the discussions say that Ms Keegan will issue new guidance to schools requiring them to put new measures in place to stop pupils from using their phones.

A source told The Daily Mail: “Gillian believes that mobile phones pose a serious challenge in terms of distraction, disruptive behaviour, and bullying. It is one of the biggest issues that children and teachers have to grapple with so she will set out a way forward to empower teachers to ban mobiles from classrooms.”

Mrs Keegan will set out the policy at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. 

A ban on devices in schools was previously proposed by then education secretary Gavin Williamson in 2021, when he warned that smartphones were “distracting” and “damaging”.

At the time, he said: “Mobile phones are not just distracting, but when misused or overused, they can have a damaging effect on a pupil’s mental health and wellbeing. I want to put an end to this, making the school day mobile-free.

“In order for us to help pupils overcome the challenges from the pandemic and level up opportunity for all young people, we need to ensure they can benefit from calm classrooms which support them to thrive.”

However, headteachers’ organisations suggested that he seemed “obsessed” with mobile phones, with the Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton stating at the time that head teachers would prefer “an ambitious post-pandemic recovery plan” rather than “playing to backbenchers” over the topic.

His proposals were supported by Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner for England. However, his successor, Nadhim Zahawi, scrapped the idea of a ban last year.

Some schools already enforce mobile bans. Katharine Birbalsingh, the headteacher of Michaela Community School in north London, requires children to put phones into a locker when they get to school.

In June, schools minister Nick Gibb said that he backed a ban on smartphones in the classroom so pupils could spend more time on learning and socialising, and suggested that parents worried for their children’s safety as they walked to and from school could give them a more basic “brick phone” instead.

He said: “Katherine talks about these children being up all night to 1am, tapping away on their mobile phones and then coming to school half asleep and therefore they are not concentrating.

“So she’s very, very determined. And she also says ‘if you’re worried about the journey from home to school and that’s why they need a phone, give them a brick phone’.”

This year, Finland declared it would ban mobile phones from classrooms to reverse its slumping exam results, having seen its usually strong performance in the The Programme for International Student Assessment’s evaluation of 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading decline from 2006.

And in September, King Charles’ alma mater, Gordonstoun, a co-educational boarding school in Moray, Scotland, also banned the “addictive” devices, stating that pupils must leave smartphones in their boarding houses during the school day and hand them in to staff overnight. 

A United Nations report published over the summer recommended a ban on using the devices in schools to improve pupils’ concentration and reduce bullying.

Unesco, the UN’s education, science and culture agency, noted that evidence showed the excessive use of mobile phones was linked to poorer educational outcomes, with Unesco’s director general, Audrey Azoulay, adding: “The digital revolution holds immeasurable potential but, just as warnings have been voiced for how it should be regulated in society, similar attention must be paid to the way it is used in education.”

She said: “Its use must be for enhanced learning experiences and for the wellbeing of students and teachers, not to their detriment.”

Other European countries have already introduced restrictions on smartphones in schools.

Italy completely banned the use of mobile phones in schools in December. Teachers were told to collect the tech from students at the start of the day.

Phones were banned in French schools in 2018 but in Germany, the region of Bavaria recently relaxed its long-standing ban.

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