Banning mobile phones from school

Banning mobile phones from school is currently a polemic debate. There are pros and cons on either side and there are nuanced grey areas.

All schools are different so understandably a blanket ban has been both welcomed with open arms as well as causing concern. 

Some of the objections to an all out ban include pupils having to call parents after the school day, digital bus passes on phones, safety concerns when walking home to encouraging pupils to use mobile phones in a ‘measured’ way. If it applies to pupils should it also apply to school staff as well?

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has said he wants a ban on mobile phones as he launched a consultation on pupil behaviour and discipline in schools. He said he wanted to make the school day “mobile-free” to help ensure that classrooms remain calm and pupils can overcome the impact of the pandemic.

With mobile phone bans for pupils in China and France could England be going the same way?

My experience of confiscating mobile phones

From my personal experience, teaching in a secondary school in special measures I found it difficult with pupils having mobile phones in the classroom and the behavioural difficulties this caused.

These mostly centered around two areas:

  • Disruption to learning and impact to pupils attainment: there was detrimental loss of learning time telling pupils to put their phones away, pupils playing games/music/messaging, pupils losing/damaging phones. It would have been much easier if phones were not on the school site at all. This happened in around 75% of my lessons, so slowed down the pace of learning and the content taught. A firm ban would have improved behaviour immeasurably as well as improve the wellbeing of teachers having to deal with the disruption to learning. Yes, up-to-date evidence on pupil attainment might be difficult to ascertain, however some research suggests that low-achieving students are more likely to be distracted by the presence of mobile phones, while high achievers can focus in the classroom regardless of whether phones are present
  • Major behavioural incidents: confiscating mobile phones would cause major behavioural incidents in the classroom. On one occasion we had 5 members of staff dealing with a mobile phone incident. I was sworn at and had a table thrown over in the classroom during one incident where a mobile phone was confiscated. There were also incidents such as sexting, nude image sharing, cyber bullying and more which only teachers working in the most difficult schools would understand the day-to-day practicalities of trying to manage. Again a clear ban would have removed all these issues from the classroom

Schools currently have the autonomy to choose how they manage mobile phones on site. Essentially if your school can manage to implement an effective mobile phone policy which reduces behavioural incidents it should be a win/win all round. 

However, there will be many schools which struggle to implement their mobile phones policies effectively and consistently. If there is a government backed ban it will make it clear to pupils, parents that mobile phones will not be allowed in schools and make it easier for staff to police.

Perhaps it might be seen as overly draconian when looking back in 10 years time and banning anything can always be problematic. 

It will be interesting to see the outcomes from the consultation and the reaction from schools, parents and pupils. I expect that a straight out ban will not be implemented and we arrive at something where phones should not be seen during the school day, which is already the status quo for the majority of settings.

There will likely be exemptions in the guidance to allow access to mobile phones under certain circumstances, however, for the majority of teachers it could make a significant improvement in the classroom where mobile phones have been an unnecessary distraction.

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