The case for phone free schools

2019-05-20T15:21:07+00:00 May 18th, 2019|Onward, Policy Paper, Research|

This morning, Onward publishes new research on the impact of mobile phones in school. Alongside the research, Parents and Teachers for Excellence have issued a national campaign, backed by the headteachers of over 120 schools and the Education Secretary, for schools to issue an outright ban on phones within the school gates.

Read the research here

The campaign calls for headteachers to adopt tough policies to ban mobile phones outright during the school day. In an open letter, over 30 high-profile heads and multi-academy trust CEOs representing over 120 schools, herald the benefits of phone-free schools and urging fellow school leaders to adopt the strict policies. The signatories include those leading some of top-performing school groups in the country, including Martyn Oliver, CEO of the 30-school Outwood Grange Academies Trust, Sir Dan Moynihan of the 47-school Harris Federation, and Sir Nick Weller of the 11-school Dixons Academy Trust. Their call is supported by the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds.

They are backed up by new research from Onward, which finds that schools that ban phones deliver an average 6% increase in test scores, with pupils 2% more likely to achieve 5 A*s to C at GCSE. Polling for the report also finds widespread support for the policy around the country, with 65% of respondents saying they agreed that mobile phones should be banned in schools, against just 26% of people who disagreed.

The report calls for Ofsted to inspect on mobile phone use as part of its inspection process and for a new kitemark system developed by Parents and Teachers for Excellence (PTE) to be adopted to allow parents identify “phone free schools”. The kitemark will be used to accredit schools that sign up to two simple but effective principles to limit screen time during school hours:

  • For Year 11 students or below, mobile phones are not to be used, seen, or heard at any point anywhere on the school site;

  • Breaches of this rule, without expressed permission in exceptional circumstances, would be sanctioned in line with the school’s usual disciplinary procedures.

Schools that choose to follow the rules outlined above can display it to quickly demonstrate their support for strong, consistent policies on mobiles.

Will Tanner, Director of Onward, said:

“There is now mounting evidence that bans on mobile phones in school could dramatically improve pupils’ concentration, behaviour and attainment – and would be supported by parents and teachers alike.

“Every school should be going Phone Free – just as the 120 schools signing up today have done – to support their children learn without distraction.”

Mark Lehain, Director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence and Founder & former Head Teacher at Bedford Free School, said:

“We know just how damaging mobile phones can be to the stable classroom setting that every teacher aspires for. By having such a clear policy on phones, schools can minimise disruption and ensure the best possible learning environment for all. On top of this, a firm ban on phones can improve pupils’ mental health and reduce anxiety by ensuring that time spent in school is time spent away from social media and other potentially corrosive influences.”

“From a parent’s perspective, I have four daughters, so I know the pressures that parents face in getting smartphones for their kids. Knowing schools are working as hard as I am to limit screen time is reassuring.”

Martyn Oliver, CEO of Outwood Grange Academies Trust, said:

“Whenever we take over a new school, we literally paint a line at the school gate, beyond which phones cannot be seen. Any phone seen by a member of staff, whether switched on or not, is immediately confiscated. It must then be collected by the parent; it is never returned directly to the pupil.”

“This is normally an issue for the first two or three days, after which it goes away, usually for good. Parents realise that this is a necessary part of ensuring the school is as good as possible, and pupils often end up appreciating the respite from the pressures of social media that the school provides.”

“We also encourage and support parents who wish to limit their child’s screen time at home, which is often easier said than done. The more I read about the potentially damaging effects of smartphones, the more I feel confident that we are doing the right thing, and I encourage other schools to take the leap and implement a similar policy.”

Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, said:

“Children in school should not be being distracted by their phones.  Head teachers and school leaders are in charge of their school – they decide on behaviour policy. I stand foursquare behind the head teacher who bans mobile phones.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves though that action on phones in schools solves the issues around electronic devices. Excessive use, the addictive nature of some social media, the online bullying – this is mostly happening outside school hours, and indeed sometimes well into the night. Limiting screen time at home isn’t always easy, but that makes it no less important to parents. I want manufacturers to do more to help facilitate limits and parental controls.”

The full text of the Open Letter is as follows:

Mobile phones have changed day-to-day life for almost everyone in the country in the past 30 years, and the rise of the smartphone in the latter part of that period has been a major disruptor in society, nowhere more-so than in schools.

We believe that these devices can be corrosive to otherwise calm and structured learning environments, and that a firm policy against their use is the best way for schools to maintain order in the pace of the disruption that mobile phones can cause.

Because of this we pledge to implement, continue, or encourage a policy of ‘phone-free schools’. Specifically, we all agree that for pupils in Year 11 or below mobile phones should not be used, seen or heard at any point, anywhere on the school site. Breaches of this rule, without expressed permission in exceptional circumstances, will be sanctioned in line with the school’s usual disciplinary procedures.

The government is right to not give a firm ruling on this issue; the matter is for headteachers to decide upon. However, we encourage all school leaders to seriously consider the positive impact that following this policy could bring, and the learning that is lost when pupils are distracted by these devices – not to mention the issues caused by social media and other applications.

Mobile phones open up a wondrous sense of opportunity, and they have in many ways made our lives much better. But there is no place for them in schools, and we encourage parents, teachers and school leaders to recognise that fact and act accordingly.

List of the signatories:

Lisa Allott Principal Outwood Academy Freeston
Sam Baxter Principal Elstow Primary School
Richard Billings Principal Towers School
Carolyn Blundell Associate Exec Principal Outwood Academy Adwick, Brumby, City, Danum, Foxhills, Newbold, Portland, Valley
Natalie Brookshaw Secondary Principal Dixons Trinity Chapeltown
Helena Brothwell Head Queen Elizabeth’s Academy
Danny Carr Principal Dixons Unity Academy
Rachel de Souza CEO Inspiration Trust
Mike Feely Principal Dixons City Academy
Mark Hassack Executive Principal Outwood Academy Acklam, Bydales, Ormesby and Redcar
Paul Haynes Principal Outwood Academy Carlton
Jonathan Heap Principal Atlantic Academy Portland
Cathie Hewitt Headteacher Angel Oak Academy
Angela Hull Principal Outwood Academy Brumby
Lynn James Executive Principal Outwood Academy Easingwold, Ripon, Freeston, Hemsworth, City Fields, Shafton, Carlton
Brian Kelly Principal Outwood Grange Academy, Wakefield
Michaela Khatib Head Cobham Free School
Sabiha Laher Associate Exec Principal Outwood Academy Carlton, Hemsworth, Shafton
Stuart Lock Executive Principal Bedford Free School
Steve Merifield Principal Outwood Academy Acklam
Neil Miley Principal Dixons Kings Academy
Tim Mills Executive Headteacher STEP Academy Trust
Dan Moynihan CEO Harris Federation
Martyn Oliver CEO Outwood Grange Academt Trust
Steve Roberts Principal Outwood Academy Newbold
Toby Rutter Principal Outwood Academy Hemsworth
Barry Smith Principal Great Yarmouth Charter Academy
Luke Sparkes Executive Principal Dixons Academy Trust
Gemma Trattles Principal Outwood Academy Ripon
Richard Tutt Principal Magna Academy
Tom Urwin Principal Outwood Academy Ormesby
Clare Wagner Head West London Free School
Shirley Watson Executive Principal Dixons Academy Trust
Dean Webster Principal Mercia School
Sir Nick Weller CEO Dixons Academy Trust
Clive Wright Head St Martins Catholic Academy
Cassie Young Head Brenzett Primary School


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