Education Secretary Gavin Williamson 'trying to look macho' with new school mobile phone ban

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Mobile phone bans and other measures to promote “calm classrooms” will be considered as part of a consultation on behaviour and discipline in schools.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he wants to make the school day mobile-free, describing the devices as “not just distracting” but also potentially “damaging” when misused.

The idea is being considered as part of a six-week consultation, launched on Tuesday, seeking the views of teachers, parents and other staff on how to manage good behaviour.

The call for evidence comes ahead of planned updates to Government guidance later this year on behaviour, discipline, suspensions and permanent exclusions.

The Department for Education (DfE) has already announced details of its £10 million “behaviour hub” programme.

Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson in his office at the Department of Education in Westminster
Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson in his office at the Department of Education in Westminster

Headteachers and behaviour specialists from 22 “lead schools” and two academy chains with strong reputations for behaviour are mentoring and supporting schools struggling with poor discipline as part of the scheme.

The chosen schools are advising on a variety of issues – ranging from setting clear expectations to eliminate low-level disruption in classrooms, to more systematic approaches to maintaining order across the school, including forbidding the use of mobile phones and maintaining quiet corridors.

As part of the consultation, respondents will be asked how schools’ behaviour policies and approaches have changed amid the pandemic and what successful practices they intend to keep up.

This is a cheap, gimmicky attempt to throw a bit of red meat to the backbenches

Geoff Barton, Association of College and School Leaders

Mr 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.”

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) accused Mr Williamson of “playing to backbenchers” with his plans.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the ASCL, has told GB News this is a red herring to make the Education Secretary “look a bit macho.”

Speaking to Kirsty Gallacher and Darren McCaffrey on the Great British Breakfast the former headteacher said: “This is a cheap, gimmicky attempt to throw a bit of red meat to the backbenches from a secretary of state who looked at himself on the back but too often and is now wanting to look a bit macho around behaviour.

“I don't know quite what the issue is he's trying to solve here, but I wish he would focus on trying to bring educational recovery.”

Mr Barton said schools should “legitimise the use of mobile phones as part of learning”, saying ”that would seem to me a much more grown up, sensible way of using technology.”