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Should Banning Mobiles In School Mean A Technology Free Zone?

Should Banning Mobiles In School Mean A Technology Free Zone?

/ Fergal Moane

On February 19th, the Department for Education published a set of non-statutory guidance on banning the use of mobile phones during the school day.

As usual, this has triggered a wave of polarised responses. The National Education Union gave a collective shoulder shrug, saying that most schools already have policies in place that largely prohibit usage during the school day. They then criticise the government for focussing on a narrow issue and failing to act on the bigger priorities such as school funding, teacher recruitment and retention and the rise of child poverty and mental health issues.

Our friends at TeacherTapp conducted a survey last month that indicated that over 60% of secondary schools prohibit use of phones under any circumstances, with fewer than 1% allowing students to use at any time.

This does suggest that this policy is not the most pressing issue that schools have to deal with (indeed, all schools I have previously worked in have had a ban in place for years) but there is still value in having a clear statement from government to back Headteachers and trust leaders. It is true to say that there has been a growth in complaints from parents, bordering on vexatious, and launching multi-channel complaints to a variety of agencies when there is a school policy that they disagree with. At least a clear position from the DfE can be used by heads and governing bodies to bolster policy and refute spurious complaints. I know many behaviour and safeguarding issues have been exacerbated by pupils contacting parents during the school day with a one-side version of events, whereas a reversion to all contact with students to be made via the school office can only be a good thing.


What is the justification for the ban? The key drivers are a reduction in distractions during the day (notifications etc.), a reduction in bullying incidents and time away from social media. There is some evidence of linkage between social media usage by teenagers and mental health concerns such as anxiety, body image perceptions, to bullying, sharing nudes, self-harm and access to extreme material.


Creating a safer space in schools should be welcomed, but access to harmful materials is usually outside school anyway. Campaigners such as Molly Russell’s father Ian and Brianna Ghey’s mother Esther have called upon technology companies to be held to account, including a call to ban social media for under 16s. The Online Safety Act contains provisions to shelter children from harmful content but is still in the process of being implemented. Parents shouldn’t wait for legislation or the tech giants to act, the NSPCC has some excellent advice on setting up parental controls on a range of devices.

So how should an EdTech company such as Bromcom respond?

Firstly, it is important to note that the guidance specifically does not apply to devices that are brought into school for learning, such as tablets, laptops or Chromebooks. From the DfE guidance: “Where schools have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scheme to facilitate the use of laptops or tablets for learning, such devices should be used in accordance with the school’s BYOD policy and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) acceptable use policy.


Therefore, aspects of Bromcom that are student-centric such as the Student Portal and app can continue to be used inside school settings, in conjunction with our integrations into popular learning platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Google Workspace/Classroom. Using these devices for beneficial learning purposes demands a robust policy that reduces the risks that have been highlighted in the guidance: connections should only be via school filtered Wifi and social media sites should be blocked and access to harmful materials being monitored in line with safeguarding and Prevent duties.


Having access to digital tools for homework and parental engagement (via My Child At School) is something that can be beneficial (see the EEF guidance report) and aspects such as AI-driven learning tools offer possibilities for reducing attainment gaps due to disadvantage or special educational needs/disabilities.


School leaders need to have robust policies in school and work in partnership with parents to mitigate the harmful aspects of modern digital life without losing the benefits. “It takes a village to raise a child” and only partnership with parents can really lead to an environment where safety and protection from digital harms stops at the school gate.

Fergal Moane

Fergal Moane

Head of Strategic Partnerships and Education Consultant - Fergal has recently joined Bromcom after 15 years as a teacher and then secondary headteacher. He has held a number of leadership roles in schools and MATs, including leading on data, curriculum and educational technology. Prior to this, Fergal worked for 15 years as an IT Director in Investment Banking.