Mobile phones lead to bad behaviour in schools, Williamson claims

The plans for mobile phone bans underpin a broader effort by the Department for Education across England to tackle disruptive behaviour in schools

Schools should ban mobile phones, Gavin Williamson has said, because they inhibit learning, stifle exercise and increase cyberbullying.

Writing in The Telegraph, the education secretary said mobile phones should not be “used or seen during the school day”, adding that he thought parents agreed “the school day is a time for learning”.

The plans will not impact independent schools, but many operate strict no-phone policies during the school day. Many boarding schools have ‘digital detox’ days that encourage students who live and learn on-site to take a 24-hour break from social media and messaging apps.

John Harrod, director of computer science at the independent school Framlingham College, said: “We must recognise mobile phones for the incredible learning aids that they are and encourage pupils to use them productively for filmmaking, photography, app development and more. Phones aren’t just platforms for mindless social media scrolling; they can fit in everywhere from a business studies lesson to the art studio.

“Pupils are intuitive with their use of mobile devices and are often the experts in this field. Modern mobiles give schools all the tools required for entry level and amateur film making as well as professional editing software.”

The plans for mobile phone bans underpin a broader effort by the Department for Education (DfE) across England to tackle disruptive behaviour in schools.

Central to the DfE strategy are 22 lead schools for its new £10 million behaviour hub programme that will partner high-performing schools and multi-academy trusts with institutions struggling with poor discipline through peer mentoring, training and support.

There is nothing Dickensian about a classroom that is a well-ordered, disciplined environment Gavin Williamson

The partner school programme is led by Tom Bennett, the DfE lead behaviour adviser. 

“Outside the classroom, the use of mobile phones distracts from healthy exercise and good old-fashioned play,” Williamson wrote. “Worse, it acts as a breeding ground for cyberbullying, and the inappropriate use of social media sites – such as anonymous Instagram accounts, where students are ranked on their appearance – which can heighten insecurities, damage mental health and encourage harassment. This is not something that we will tolerate.”

Williamson said there was “nothing Dickensian about a classroom that is a well-ordered, disciplined environment”. He expressed concerns that “some children” will find returning to classrooms after the lockdown “more challenging than others”. 

“Although remote learning was a tremendous success in terms of enabling children to carry on with their lessons from home, the lack of regular structure and discipline will inevitably have had an effect on their behaviour,” he continued. “Maintaining good discipline is an absolute must in any classroom and is one of our key priorities.” 

Bennett said: “It’s been a real honour to recruit some of the best schools in the country to offer their support to other schools who want to refocus on behaviour and culture.

“Every school can, with assistance, be safe, calm places where everyone is treated with dignity, and students and staff can learn and flourish together.

“We know that some schools are further towards that ideal than others, and many more only need direction from those who have walked the path before them.

“The Hubs project is designed to start reasonably modestly, build a model that works, and then expand into a size and shape that supports more schools that need it. This has the capacity to make a real and substantial difference to the lives of futures of many thousands of children and families and I cannot wait to see it develop.”

Behaviour hub lead schools and trusts

  • Throckley Primary School, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Sedgefield Community College, Durham
  • Carmel College, Darlington
  • Tor View School, Lancashire
  • Evelyn Street Community Primary School, Warrington
  • Dixons Trinity Academy, Bradford
  • Painsley Catholic College, Staffordshire
  • Witham St Hughs Academy, Lincolnshire
  • Keyham Lodge School, Leicester
  • Perryfield Primary Pupil Referral Unit, Worcestershire
  • Saint Augustine’s Catholic High School, Worcestershire
  • Bedford Free School, Bedford
  • Oak Bank School, Bedfordshire
  • Chepping View Primary Academy, Buckinghamshire
  • Ashmole Academy, Barnet
  • St Gregory’s Catholic Science College, Brent
  • Charles Dickens Primary School, Southwark
  • Lyons Hall Primary School, Essex
  • Maiden Erlegh Trust, Wokingham
  • The Limes College – Alternative Learning Trust, Sutton
  • Glenmoor Academy, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
  • Polegate School, East Sussex

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Read more: NEU survey shows 98% of school staff against extending school day or term

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