What we know about the plan to ban smartphones in schools

Bored male student using phone during a class.
The government has published new guidelines on smartphones in schools. (File photo: Getty) (SolStock via Getty Images)

The government has vowed to ban mobile phones in schools in England after it published new guidance for headteachers.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan said the guidance published on Monday would help schools outlaw the use of smartphones throughout the day, including at break times.

But the plan, which was trailed at the Conservative Party conference last October, has been met with scepticism by teachers and unions, who point out that heads already have their own policies on phones and whether they should be banned.

What we know

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.

Keegan said the guidelines would provide “clarity and consistency” for teachers and that there is currently “a large variation in how different schools are managing the use of mobile phones”.

According to Ofcom, 97% of children have a mobile phone by the age of 12, and the government said using them in schools can lead to online bullying, distraction and classroom disruption.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM  FEBRUARY 06: Secretary of State for Education Gillian Keegan leaves 10 Downing Street after attending the weekly Cabinet meeting in London, United Kingdom on February 06, 2024. (Photo by Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Education secretary Gillian Keegan has introduced new guidelines around mobile phones in schools. (Getty Images) (Anadolu via Getty Images)

The guidance contains four examples of how schools can tackle mobile phones; firstly, no phones are allowed to be brought to school; phones are handed in on arrival; mobiles kept in a secure location which pupils cannot access throughout the day and, finally, pupils keep possession of their phones but only on the condition that they are never used, seen or heard.

The guidance also suggests staff could search pupils and their bags for mobile phones if necessary.

The announcement comes days after Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered teenager Brianna Ghey, called for the law to be changed to stop children having access to social media apps, through the introduction of mobile phones that are only suitable for under-16s.

Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe were both 15 when they killed Brianna, 16, on 11 February last year. Jenkinson had watched videos of torture and murder online.

What we don't know

It is unclear if the guidelines will lead schools in England into altering their current policies for dealing with mobile phones.

Data published by Teacher Tapp last January revealed that only about 1% of schools have no restrictions in place at all on smartphones.

It remains to be seen if the guidelines will eventually lead to an outright nationwide ban on mobile phones in schools.

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


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.

“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.”

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