School mobile phone ‘ban’ guidance: What you need to know

DfE publishes non-statutory guidance it says will give 'hard-working teachers the tools to take action'

DfE publishes non-statutory guidance it says will give 'hard-working teachers the tools to take action'

The government has published new guidance for schools on managing the use of mobile phones.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan warned mobile phones “are, at a minimum, an unwanted distraction in the classroom”, and said she was giving “hard-working teachers the tools to take action to help improve behaviour”.

However, the guidance is not statutory, meaning schools can ignore it.

There are also no new powers for headteachers to ban devices, but government said the guidance will help promote a “consistent approach across all schools”. Most already have their own policy banning mobiles.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton said he had “lost count of the number of times that ministers have now announced a crackdown on mobile phones in schools. It is a non-policy for a non-problem”.

“The government would be far better off putting its energies into bringing to heel the online platforms via which children are able to access disturbing and extreme content.”

Here’s your trusty Schools Week speed read of what you need to know …

1. Ban phones for the whole school day

Schools should “develop a mobile phone policy that prohibits the use of mobile phones and other smart technology with similar functionality to mobile phones”.

This should be in place “throughout the school day, including during lessons, the time between lessons, breaktimes and lunchtime”.

These policies on mobile phones “can be included within the school’s behaviour policy or be its own standalone document”, and should be published.

2. DfE gives four example approaches

Mobile phone policies should reflect schools’ “individual contexts and needs”, the guidance states.

It gives these four examples of approaches, but warns it is “not an exhaustive list”.

  1. No mobile phones on the school premises, meaning they must be left at home. This “provides a very simple boundary which is straightforward to enforce as any mobile phone found at school would be in breach of the policy”.
  2. Mobile phone handed in on arrival, meaning phones are collected by staff and held until the end of the school day. But schools are urged to be “mindful that even if a pupil has handed in one mobile phone, they may have another mobile phone in their possession”.
  3. Mobile phones kept in a secure location. Examples include “bag-free” days where possessions are kept in lockers.
  4. Never used, seen or heard. This involves pupils keeping possession of their phones with the condition they are never used, seen or heard in schools. It is “important that schools enforce this policy vigorously, consistently and visibly, to the effect that mobile phone use is prohibited throughout the school day”.

3. But consider ‘risks’ of travelling without phones

If a decision is made to fully ban phones, schools “should consider the impact on children travelling to and from school where not having a mobile phone poses a risk or the perception of a risk”.

Schools are “encouraged to consult with parents to develop such a policy, considering ways to mitigate specific concerns and build support for this approach”.

Where parents need to contact their child during the school day, they “should be directed to the school office, where staff should be aware of the school’s policy on relaying messages and facilitating contact”.

4. Don’t let 6th form use phones in front of pupils…

The guidance states schools should “consider whether pupils in the sixth form should be permitted access to their mobile phone at certain and limited times and locations, reflecting this period of education as one of increased independence and responsibility”.

But this should not “[compromise] the school’s policy on the use of mobile phones for other pupils”.

This should include “prohibiting the use of mobile phones by sixth-form pupils in front of younger pupils, for example limiting use to a sixth-form common room”.

5. …and nor should staff

Staff should also “not use their own mobile phone for personal reasons in front of pupils throughout the school day”.

But the DfE acknowledged there “may be occasions where it is appropriate for a teacher to use a mobile phone or similar device, for instance to issue homework, issue rewards and sanctions or use multi-factor authentication”.

6. Schools can confiscate phones…

Schools “can use a range of sanctions” for breaching phone bans, “including confiscation and detentions”. It is for heads to decide how long it is “proportionate” to confiscate phones.

Schools already have this power, and are protected from liability for loss or damage of items if they are confiscated lawfully.

But schools should “consider whether it is proportionate in the circumstances of the case and consider any special circumstances relevant to its imposition”.

These include the pupil’s age, “any religious requirements affecting them” and any special educational needs or disability”.

7. …and search pupils for them

Heads also have the power to search pupils or their possessions “where they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the pupil is in possession of a prohibited item as set out in legislation or any item identified in the school rules as an item that may be searched for”.

Headteachers “can and should identify mobile phones and similar devices as something that may be searched for in their school behaviour policy”.

Again, this is not a new power. Guidance on searching pupils already sets out banned items can be those the headteacher has deemed “detrimental to maintaining high standards of behaviour”.

8. But some pupils may need flexibility

The DfE warned there “may be other exceptional circumstances where schools should consider making adaptations to their policy for specific pupils”.

For example, allowing a disabled pupil access to a phone where necessary “may be considered a reasonable adjustment and a failure to do so may be a breach of the school’s duty”.

Another example is pupils with medical conditions like diabetes, who “might use continuous glucose monitoring with a sensor linked to their mobile phone to monitor blood sugar levels”.

Schools should also allow flexibility for pupils who “depend” on phone access because of their “individual circumstances”, for example young carers.

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  1. Frank Solarz

    This is deflection from the real issues facing Education. The real issues are funding, recruitment and for some schools RAAC remediation. The local school has lost 18 classrooms including laboratories. Students are losing use of practical rooms but no support from exam boards. The school kitchen is shut too meaning no one gets hot food in the middle of the day. So students on free school meals (could be their only meal of the day) do not get hot food! That has been the situation since September. The are no plans for remediation in the near future. Hence deflection with mobile phones!

  2. Kevyn Davies-Jones

    This is a typical backward-looking attitude in the education sector in its approach to technology – and anything new. When I was at primary school, we had to write with nibs and ink wells, even though everyone in the real world had been using biros for decades. The mentality is still the same. Mobile phones are the present and the future. Schools should be encouraging and teaching good mobile phone use, not banning and stigmatising it.