Life&Style writer Zoë Maddock explores the advantages and disadvantages surrounding Rishi Sunak’s proposal to ban phones across all schools in the UK

Written by Zoe Maddock

A recently published policy from Rishi Sunak’s Government surrounding the banning of mobile phones in schools has been the topic of debate for people up and down the country. In a controversial move, Rishi Sunak has released guidance banning students from using their phones at any point in the school day. Sunak released a public statement describing mobile phones as ‘one of the biggest issues facing children and teachers today’ . The policy intends to eliminate classroom distractions, improve student behaviour in school and cut down on cyberbullying incidents. The Government’s guidance comes after three years of conversation from six education secretaries surrounding the topic.

Since its announcement, the guidance has come with a fair amount of backlash from many people who believe that banning phones is not the way to address problems outlined by the Government. Campaigners involved in conversations surrounding online regulation have said that the guidance does not make social media services safer like government ministers suggest. There has also been concerns about the ban infringing on students’ rights, as well as the actual practicality of the ban. 

The guidance comes with intentions of improving child safeguarding online, school surroundings and academic success. The Government states that they want schools to be an environment that is ‘calm, safe and free from distraction’. If students don’t have access to their phones in school, they should be more involved in learning and socialising. There has been studies linking declining attention spans, increased symptoms of ADHD and worsening academic performance with screen time. So, it is easy to understand the sentiment behind the policy and how the ban may improve the academic environment for pupils. Creating a phone-free environment should, in theory, reduce the amount of distractions in the classroom as well as keeping students fully engaged in the school day.  

However, there are many reasons why the guidance has been under fire in recent discourse. Critics have raised concerns about how well the ban would address the issues presented by the Government. While the ban means children will not be subject to harmful content or cyberbullying during the school day, when they go home the same content will still be accessible. Campaigners have suggested strengthening social media regulations for children so that harmful content is not available at all, not just during the school day. The guidance has also been described as a ‘non-policy for a non-problem’ by the Association of School and College leaders, citing a drop in funding and the RAAC scandal as more pressing issues for schools in the UK. 

In a time of financial struggle for many families, phones in schools does not seem like a priority.

The negative reaction to this policy is understandable in the current political climate. In a time of financial struggle for many families, phones in schools does not seem like a priority. A phone ban will reduce classroom distractions, but it cannot eliminate all factors that worsen the school environment, for example underfunded facilities. Furthermore, the guidance does not address factors that may require phones to be used during school time. For example, accessing online timetables, assignments or contacting guardians if necessary. The guidance seems to ignore the ways in which phones are needed by students. 

During my time in secondary school, students were required to leave phones in their lockers during the entire day including break and lunch. The school was able to enforce this without much fuss and I think it worked in students’ favour in terms of improving our academic progress, so I understand the intentions of the policy. However, there was no Government guidance needed for the school to put this phone ban in place. If schools identify phone usage as an issue, they are able to put rules in place without the interference of the Government. 71.8% of schools in England already implement some sort of phone ban. Policy does not seem necessary in this instance. 

Improving the school environment should be a priority for Rishi Sunak and the Department of Education, however this policy does not seem proactive. The benefits of a phone ban are clear, but it is an issue than can be addressed on an individual school level. Improving student focus is multi-faceted, phones may provide immediate distraction but if the students are not being provided with a high-quality academic environment it is unlikely they will want to focus. 

Students deserve a level of trust when it comes to mobile phone usage, banning them removes autonomy in their decisions. If a ban is deemed ‘necessary’ perhaps it is time to address the reasons as to why students want or need to use their phones in school, rather than punishing them for it.

Read more from Life&Style:

Women’s Wellness Walks

A Look at the Viral ‘Mob Wife’ Aesthetic

Campus Couture: Your 2024 Ins and Outs