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Ban on phones in schools considered to promote ‘calm classrooms’

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Banning mobile phones will be considered as one of a range of measures to promote “calm classrooms”, the education secretary has announced.

Gavin Williamson has said he wants to make the school day mobile-free because the devices are “distracting” and potentially “damaging” when misused.

The government is seeking the views of teachers, parents and other staff on how to encourage good behaviour as part of a six-week consultation.

It comes ahead of an update to guidance on behaviour, discipline, suspensions and permanent exclusions later this year.

Respondents to the consultation will be asked how the policies and approaches of schools have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and what successful measures they intend to keep.

“No parent wants to send their child to a school where poor behaviour is rife,” Mr Williamson said.

“Every school should be a safe place that allows young people to thrive and teachers to excel.

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“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.”

But the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) accused the education secretary of “playing to backbenchers” with the move.

“The education secretary appears to be obsessed with the subject of mobile phones in schools. In reality, every school will already have a robust policy on the use of mobile phones; it isn’t some sort of digital free-for-all,” general secretary Geoff Barton said.

“Approaches will vary between settings and contexts, but this is an operational decision for schools, not something that can be micromanaged from Westminster.

“Frankly, school and college leaders would prefer the education secretary to be delivering an ambitious post-pandemic recovery plan and setting out how he intends to minimise educational disruption next term, rather than playing to backbenchers on the subject of behaviour.”

Sarah Hannafin, senior policy advisor for school leaders’ union NAHT, warned that while a phone ban would work for some schools “there isn’t one policy that will work for all schools”.

She added: “Outright banning mobile phones can cause more problems than it solves, driving phone use ‘underground’ and making problems less visible and obvious for schools to tackle.”

The Department for Education has already announced a £10m “behaviour hub” programme.

As part of this, headteachers and behaviour specialists from 22 “lead schools” and two academy chains with reputations for maintaining good behaviour are mentoring and supporting schools that struggle with poor discipline.

The schools also provide advice in a range of areas, including eradicating low-level disruption in classrooms and banning the use of phones and maintaining quiet corridors.