Education secretary Williamson proposes ban on mobile phones in schools

Written by Sam Trendall on 29 June 2021 in News

Cabinet minister labels devices ‘distracting and damaging’

Credit: Satendra Kushwah from Pixabay 

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has proposed banning the use of mobile phones in schools across England.

The proposal comes as part of a wider public consultation exercise related to behaviour and discipline in schools, and the current system of suspensions and exclusions for pupils. The government plans to update its guidance later this year and, before it does so, is seeking input from teachers, other staff, and parents.

Alongside the question of whether the use of phones should be banned throughout the school day, the consultation also hopes to gather feedback on wider issues related to “behaviour management strategies”, including measures such as “removal rooms” and “in-school behavioural units”. 

Williamson said: “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.”

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The latest proposals come on the back of a £10m government programme in which leading figures from “England’s highest performing multi-academy trusts” have been assigned to partner with schools with behaviour or discipline issues. 

The consultation is open until 10 August.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that the union has “no objection to looking at the issue of how to support good behaviour in general, but it is important to recognise that there are wider factors that also need to be addressed”.

“The education secretary appears to be obsessed with the subject of mobile phones in schools,” he added. “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. 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.”

One of Williamson’s ministerial colleagues at the Department for Education, schools minister Nick Gibb, said in 2019 that he believed “that schools should ban their pupils from bringing smartphones into school or the classroom”.

The previous year, the same idea had been put forward by Matt Hancock who, at the time, was secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.


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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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