Teachers get new guidance as ministers ‘ban’ mobile phones in schools

New guidance says schools should ban mobile phones, but some say they help children to learn, as Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports

Schools in England have been issued new guidance by ministers to ban pupils bringing in mobile phones.

The Department of Educations say the move would ensure consistency in classrooms across England.

It is currently up to individual head teachers to decide their own policies on mobile phones and whether they should be banned.

The guidance, which is non-statutory, instructs headteachers on how to ban the use of phones not only during lessons but during break and lunch periods as well.

It also suggests staff could search pupils and their bags for mobile phones if necessary, noting that “headteachers can and should identify mobile phones and similar devices as something that may be searched for in their school behaviour policy”.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan Credit: Danny LAwson/PA

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the new guidance was a significant step, after originally promising ban mobile phones in schools at last October’s Tory conference.

The promise was met with scepticism at the time, and one trade union on Monday branded it a “non-policy for a non-problem”.

On an exclusive visit to a school with ITV News, Gillian Keegan said "we're trying to introduce a consistent picture across all of our schools, and to make sure that we reset the social norm - that when you're in school, from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, you will not be permitted to use your mobile phone".

The new guidance ranges from a total ban on phones on school premises, students having to hand in their devices at the start of the school day or keeping them in lockers, to pupils being trusted to keep their phones but on the condition they are not used.

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

Gillian Keegan told ITV's Good Morning Britain current mobile phone bans in schools are "not consistent."

When asked by Susannah Reid if the department was just "repeating guidance" they had previously announced, the education secretary insisted she is here to "here to help headteachers, not to do things that don't make a difference to them".

The government have gone back and forth on plans to ban mobile phones for years.

In 2021, then Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he wanted to ban mobile phones in classrooms, but this idea was then scrapped by his successor Nadhim Zahawi.

The announcement comes after calls from the mother of murdered teenager Brianna Ghey, to ban under 16s from owning a phone.

Almost 100,000 people have also backed a petition by Esther Ghey to remove social media apps from children's phones.

Hellena Rose, a parent who spoke to ITV News said it was important for children to have access to phones in schools for "safety" reasons.

Ms Rose said mobile phones can be a "window into the school for parents", offering the children a form of "protection" if an incident occurs at school.

The government pointed to recent official data that showed 29% of secondary school pupils reported mobile phones being used when not supposed to.

They also revealed that 97% of 12-year-olds currently own a mobile phone, according to Ofcom figures.

But the Association of School and College Leaders said it did not expect the new guidance to make any discernible impact.

General Secretary Geoff Barton said that the “compulsive use” of devices was not happening in schools but “while children are out of school”.

He said: “Most schools already forbid the use of mobile phones during the school day or allow their use only in limited and stipulated circumstances.

“We have 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.”

Jason Elsom, chief executive of Parentkind said: "The government is right to be taking decisive action on the use of phones in schools.

“Society has sleepwalked into a position where children are addicted to harmful ‘electronic drugs’, and have no-escape from their digital dealers, not even within the relatively safe grounds of their schools.” 

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…