The government's highly publicised crackdown on pupils using mobile phones may only amount to a change in the non-legally binding advice it gives to schools, schools minister Nick Gibb has admitted.
Asked by Tes if ministers were willing to legislate to ban phones from schools, Mr Gibb said that the department believes in an "autonomous" system where these decisions are made by the profession.
He added that a government consultation on behaviour – which has asked schools questions about mobile phone use – will result "at the very least" in "revisions to the non-statutory behaviour guidance."
Gavin Williamson: DfE backs mobile phone bans in schools
Mr Gibb's comments come after it was widely reported that the government was seeking to ban mobile phones from schools.
Government support for mobile phone bans in schools
When it launched a consultation on behaviour in schools last month. education secretary Gavin Williamson said: "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."
However, the consultation only said that the questions it was asking would help it to inform plans to revise non-statutory guidance on behaviour and discipline in schools and statutory guidance on suspensions and permanent exclusions.
This was pointed out at the time by former Department for Education adviser Sam Freedman, who said in a post on Twitter: "There you go. The mobile phone consultation is now out and talks only about 'revisions to non-statutory guidance'. No bans, no legislation, pure gesture politics and I wish newspapers would stop falling for it."
There you go. The mobile phone consultation is now out and talks only about "revisions to non-statutory guidance". No bans, no legislation, pure gesture politics and I wish newspapers would stop falling for it. https://t.co/bBDzrgGZVK— Sam Freedman (@Samfr) June 29, 2021
Tes asked Mr Gibb today: "Would the government be prepared to pass legislation to ban phones in schools?
He replied: "What we've said is we think that mobile phones are a distraction, and we're trying to spread best practice, but ultimately we believe in an autonomous academies [and] schools system, where these decisions are ultimately made by the profession.
"But the evidence – this is what we're seeking to do at the moment – does demonstrate that this is a very effective way of ensuring that children are focused on the lessons in place.
"These are the issues that we are consulting on as we have issued a call for evidence to find out from around the country what is the best practice in schools, and then we'll use that evidence to determine the next stage and I think at the very least it will be revisions to the non-statutory behaviour guidance."