The school mobile phone “ban” announced by Gillian Keegan today will not be statutory, the Department for Education has confirmed.
It means schools will continue to be able to set their own policies on mobile phones, with data showing most already have some form of ban in place.
Gillian Keegan addressed a half-empty auditorium today at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. Her speech was light on policy and much of it was devoted to attacking the Labour Party.
The minister warned that “today, one of the biggest issues facing children and teachers is grappling with the impact of smartphones in our schools. The distraction, the disruption, the bullying.
“We know that teachers are struggling with their impact, and we know that they need support. So today we’re recognising the amazing work that many schools have done in banning mobile phones.
“And we’re announcing that we will change guidance so that all schools will follow their lead.”
But the guidance change will not ensure “all schools” ban mobile phones. It will be non-statutory, meaning schools can simply ignore it.
However, the government said “if schools fail to implement the new guidance, the government will consider legislating in the future to make the guidance statutory”.
The guidance will “back head teachers in banning mobile phone use throughout the school day”.
It aims to “support the wider work the government is doing to raise standards in schools by increasing students’ focus and reducing distractions”.
8 in 10 schools already ban phones
The government has called for mobile phones to be banned in schools multiple times in recent years. Ministers even consulted on a potential ban, but ultimately left it up to headteachers saying “government intervention isn’t necessary” because in most cases phones are already banned.
Teacher Tapp data published in January shows 80 per cent of schools had some sort of mobile phone banning policy, up from around two-thirds in June 2018.
The majority (47 per cent) were ‘not allowed to be used during the day’. Just five per cent banned mobiles from the school grounds, while another eight per cent collected phones at the start of the day.
However a separate poll found 38 per cent of secondary teachers said a student took out a phone in their lesson without permission, up two percentage points compared to the previous year.
New guidance will be published “soon”, the Conservatives said, and would “ensure phones will be banned in the school day, including during break times”.
“Limited exemptions” will be made where necessary, “for example where children require their phones for medical reasons”.
Keegan said: “Having a uniform approach to taking mobile phones out of school will mean children can focus in the classroom and get the education they need to reach their full potential.
“This change will reduce distractions and help us continue to improve behaviour and drive-up standards – that have seen England rise up the international league tables in key subjects like English and maths.”