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New guidance for mobile phone use in schools

on Wednesday, 03 April 2024.

The DfE published guidance in February 2024 to help schools develop and implement policies to prohibit mobile phone use, along with other similar smart technologies, throughout the school day, including during lessons, breaktimes and lunchtimes.

The guidance is non-statutory and is not prescriptive in its recommendations. Schools are encouraged to develop policies that suit their individual contexts/circumstances eg different approaches could be adopted for different groups of students, for example some schools may wish to limit (rather than prohibit) use of devices by sixth-form students to communal  areas, and not in front of younger pupils. The emphasis is placed on creating policies that are accessible, aligned with the school's values, consistent, and easy to follow.

It includes some examples of approaches schools can take, from: banning mobile phones on school premises, handing them to staff at the beginning of the school day, storing them in secure lockers throughout the day, or allowing pupils to retain possession, but adopt a 'never seen or heard' approach, with appropriate sanctions imposed if the policy isn't followed.

Whatever approach schools choose to adopt, they need to be mindful of the need to be flexible enough to make adaptations to their policies where individual pupils need access to phones during the school day such as  young carers who may need to contact those they are caring for. Schools also have duties under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of disabled students e.g. pupils with medical conditions such as diabetes may need their mobile phone to check blood glucose levels throughout the day. Schools are advised to assess each case for adjustments or adaptations on its own merits.

Schools are signposted to the DfE's Behaviour in schools guidance which has also been amended to include content on mobile phone use by pupils. Again, schools can be flexible about the range of sanctions they use for breaches of the policy, so long as it is appropriate to their context and pupil cohort e.g. it could include detentions or confiscation. Whatever the sanction, schools should consider whether they are reasonable and appropriate, whether there are special circumstances relating to the pupil being sanctioned (eg age or special educational needs) and what outcome the school are trying to achieve by taking disciplinary action.

What should schools do now?

As the guidance is already in force, schools should now consider the following:

Reviewing/updating existing policies: if schools don't already have a policy on the use of mobile phones, they will want to consider which approach they wish to adopt. The school's policy can be incorporated into a behaviour policy, acceptable use, or separate standalone policy. This should be published either on the school's website or another website parents can access (or in the case of maintained schools, must be published in this way).

Communication with parents/carers: the DfE has stressed the importance of involving both parents and pupils in discussions about mobile phone policies and additional materials have been provided to support these conversations and ensure that the policies are well understood and supported by all stakeholders. Parents/carers should also know who to contact at the school to ask for adaptations or reasonable adjustments to be made.

Communication with pupils: if schools already have policies in place, this is an opportunity to reinforce the policy and communicate what the school are trying to achieve. If the school decide to implement a completely new approach, they should make sure pupils (and parents/carers) are informed well in advance of the changes so they are clear about its purpose, sanctions, and any reasonable adjustments or adaptations that can be made, depending on personal circumstances.

For more information, please contact Victoria Guest in our Education team on 0117 314 5375, or complete the form below.

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