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Behaviour in schools: Could banning mobile phones cause more problems than it solves?

Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary

Education Secretary launches call for evidence on behaviour in schools 

The Government is asking teachers and school leaders for views on managing good behaviour, including on the use of mobile phones in the school day.

The use of mobile phones in schools is one of a number of areas being looked at by the Government as part of a review of behaviour in schools.

The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has today (29 June) launched a call for evidence asking teachers, parents and other staff for their views and policies on managing good behaviour, ahead of planned updates to Government guidance later this year on behaviour, discipline, suspensions and permanent exclusions.

The six-week consultation seeks views on how schools maintain calm classrooms, the use of removal rooms and creating mobile phone-free school days, among other measures.

This next step follows the department’s £10 million behaviour hubs programme which partners heads and leaders from England’s highest performing multi-academy trusts with schools struggling with poor behaviour and discipline.

The move follows the Education Secretary’s speech to the Confederation of School Trusts earlier this year, where he set out the importance of good behaviour as part of the Government’s continuing drive to raise standards and support young people to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“No parent wants to send their child to a school where poor behaviour is rife. Every school should be a safe place that allows young people to thrive and teachers to excel.

“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.”

KevinCourtney100x100Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:  

“Teachers will wonder why the Secretary of State is talking about mobiles instead of what schools need in order to help students make positive choices, re-acquire learning habits and recover their self-confidence about the future. The urgency right now is for smaller class sizes, immediate funding for mental health and anxiety issues, and identifying time for teachers to work with small groups. There is a huge variety in learning gaps and social and emotional impacts for different groups of children and if we don’t create a flexible recovery phase of education this next academic year, teachers will be faced with significant issues in the classroom. 

“Gavin Williamson is out of step with the scale of the challenge faced by education staff in terms of the number of young people with mental health difficulties and gaps in areas such as speech and language skills. The Secretary of State talks about ‘discipline’ and ‘order’ when he should talk about mental health, wellbeing and what teachers need to cope with learning gaps. There is also a serious concern about the burgeoning mental-health needs of children and young people. 

“Talking about mobile phones is a distraction. Schools generally have very clear policies and will not see the need for another consultation. The fundamental question from leaders is where the Secretary of State is on creating the flexibility, funding and trust next year to make the recovery phase of education successful and fair for students. Students in families on lower incomes have been hardest hit – and lost the most learning time – so what matters this year is empathy, high expectation and time for individual teaching alongside emotional support, not tougher sanctions or zero-tolerance policies on behaviour. 

“The Secretary of State should be demonstrating that he understands the links between mental health, a very high-pressure curriculum and whether young people cope in school. Student behaviour can be very challenging for staff. For that reason, schools need to make sure staff feel supported, to work as a team, and not on their own.” 

Sarah Hannafin, senior policy advisor for school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“Mobile phone bans work for some schools but there isn’t one policy that will work for all schools. 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 call for evidence asks for information about schools’ behaviour strategies and practices, including questions on practices or interventions that have been effective in addressing low level disruptive behaviour.

It will also gather responses from schools about how and when they might decide to transfer a pupil to another school in their best interest, known as managed moves. The survey asks how schools’ behaviour policies and approaches have changed in response to the pandemic and what successful practices they intend to maintain.

Behaviour management strategies, in-school units and managed moves: call for evidence 

DfE are seeking to understand how schools utilise their behaviour strategies to manage common behavioural challenges.

This consultation closes at 

Consultation description: To help inform the review of the behaviour and discipline, and suspensions and permanent exclusions guidance later this year, DfE have launched a call for evidence on:

  • behaviour management strategies
  • banning mobile phones from the school day
  • removal rooms and spaces
  • in-school behavioural units
  • managed moves

DfE want to improve the available evidence and understand how to improve the experiences of all children and young people in school. They also want to know how schools create a culture where all pupils and staff feel safe, wanted and welcomed and can reach their full potential.

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