How we rolled out a successful school mobile phone ban

Gavin Williamson wants phones banned in schools, but how easy is it to do? One leader talks us through how they did it

Laura May Rowlands

How to introduce a mobile phone ban in your school

If you’ve decided to follow the advice of Gavin Williamson and ban mobile phones in your school, you may be wondering how to implement this with the minimum of fuss.

After all, if you've had mobiles allowed in schools up until now, it will take more than a note in the newsletter if you want parental support and compliance from students. But it can be done – as we discovered in my school.

Tips to successfully introduce a mobile phone ban in your school 

Here are the steps you need to take in order to make it a success:

1. Be clear on details

Once this decision is made, you need to have perfect clarity on what the policy will entail, and do this before the announcement is shared with everyone in the school.

This will mean you have to decide on what your non-negotiables are and stick to them. Now is the time to pre-empt questions or concerns, so you're not caught off guard mid-rollout.

For example: does the policy include staff? What are the limits of the ban? Will pupils be permitted to have phones in their bags, but switched off while they are on the premises? Will the policy change depending on the age of the student, for example for key stage 4 or 5 students? 

2. Communicate with plenty of forewarning

As with any major policy change, you need to communicate the impending change to all stakeholders, well in advance of implementation. Tell them early; tell them often.

What is of the utmost importance is that the decision is formally shared with staff prior to being released through all mediums to parents and pupils. You will need your teaching and support staff to all be behind you when implementing it, so respect them by making them feel included on the decision, and don't make them feel like an afterthought.

When you are getting the news out about the change, you will need to think about how to reach all of your learners using as many mediums as possible.

This might include (but isn't limited to): a letter home with a tear-off slip as a "read-receipt"; videos recorded and shared via school accounts on social media; text messages to parents (oh the irony!); posters for tutor rooms and in break zones; and a prominent notice on the school website.

You should also be putting on an assembly for each year group with key information, as well as making the policy part of the home-school agreement.

When you're doing all of the above, try to also highlight the benefits of the new change – there are plenty of facts and figures to support such a decision, so utilise them.

3. Training

For any policy to be a success, the people implementing it need absolute clarity.

This means that the period between the announcement to parents and the start of the policy is crucial. A whole-staff training session – either virtually or in person – is necessary in order for everyone to be able to sing from the same hymn sheet.

No matter what your previous phone policy was, going to a full ban will always feel like a big change. You will need everyone on board, including support staff, your midday assistants and site staff. A good idea is to include this as part of your robust behaviour policy, with a flow chart explaining every step.

What to do when the rules are broken

When the above steps have been taken, it doesn't mean your journey has finished. Really, it's just started.

You may need to brace for a spike in pushback as the policy comes into force. That is fine: incidences of rule-breaking will subside, so long as there is consistency from all staff.

The school will look foolish if it transpires that Ms Jones in geography has continued to allow Kahoot! on a Friday afternoon, or lunchtime supervisors are turning a blind eye.

You need all staff be able to answer key questions about rule breaking: What sanction is in place? Can this be seen through effectively?

Be realistic. For example, stating that phones will be confiscated until the end of the academic year is likely to backfire, but here you can refer back to the home-school agreement. How can the benefits of the policy change be reinforced?

Reflect and review

At the end of a decided period – say, a half-term – a review may be necessary. That’s not to say you’ll want to scrap the ban, but an evaluation of how the half-term has gone is important to search for potential improvements and you must ask staff, pupils and parents.

The sort of areas where it's helpful to ask stakeholders to reflect on are: attendance of lunchtime clubs; use of the library; reports of cyber bullying; behaviour in corridors and between lessons. 

Do not overlook your exceptions

Naturally, a rigid one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to succeed when applied to pupils with additional needs, or those with EAL. Anticipating and having a solution for this in advance will stop the "It’s not fair!" brigade.

Much like the sunflower lanyard we’ve all come to recognise, a prominent marker may be useful – for pupils who have this as part of their education, health and care plan (EHCP) or are new-starter EAL. The list of these pupils should be circulated to all staff, along with the reason, so there is absolute clarity. That way, any temptation for misuse can be avoided.

Laura May Rowlands is head of English in a secondary school in Hampshire

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