The UK Secretary of State for Education and MP for South Staffordshire Gavin Alexander Williamson has called for banning mobile phones in schools.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Williamson warned that mobile phone or smart phone usage must be avoided during the school day. According to him, the current pandemic lockdown had affected the “discipline and order” of children; but added that it was up to schools to make their own policies.
Williamson said: “It’s now time to put the screens away, especially mobile phones. Technology has been invaluable in keeping children learning during lockdowns and we support its use. Outside the classroom, the use of mobile phones distracts from healthy exercise and good old-fashioned play. Worse, it acts as a breeding ground for cyber-bullying, and the inappropriate use of social media sites. While it is for every school to make its own policy, I firmly believe that mobile phones should not be used or seen during the school day, and will be backing head teachers who implement such policies.”
He added that government will be consulting on ways to help heads of schools restrict the entry of phones from educational premises later this year.
According to data from the app Teacher Tapp, which conducts daily surveys of about 8,500 teachers, most schools in the UK are already implementing policies that limit the use of phones in lessons. The app also reveals that most primary schools and about half of secondary schools in the UK do not permit phones to be used during lunchtime or breaks either.
Teacher Tapp co-founder Laura McInerney said: “The real issue flagged by secondary teachers is that rules and sanctions are inconsistently applied, and it isn’t always clear whose responsibility it is to remove a phone, or if they are allowed to do so. How the education secretary will change that problem isn’t immediately clear.”
Although schools are allowed to ban phones from their premises, government policy states that only head teachers can decide whether such a move is appropriate or not.
An earlier ban had been backed by Minister for School Standards Nick Gibb, former culture secretary and current health secretary Matt Hancock, and Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman.
However, no laws have been framed for enforcement in the UK, unlike in France where the law prevents children from using their phones inside school premises.
Education training company Bright Futures Education’s Mica-May Smith said: “A blanket ban is not advisable as children may still bring them into school and hide them. It is about bringing trust and preparing them for the adult world.”
According to Smith, a collaborative approach was needed with some set rules, such as designated areas and times for the use of mobile phones.
Framlingham College in Suffolk deputy head Susan Wessels said: “Phones should be incorporated into lessons as a fundamental part of the curriculum. Schools are designed to prepare students for the real world. We must encourage pupils to use their phones constructively.”
Price comparison site uSwitch suggested in its survey last year that half of the parents supported a ban on mobile phones.
Williamson added: “Although remote learning was a tremendous success in terms of enabling children to carry on with their lessons from home, the lack of regular structure and discipline will inevitably have had an effect on their behaviour.”