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Teachers are urged to search pupils for phones as Gillian Keegan unveils crackdown on devices in schools – but Labour says the ‘guidance’ will make no difference


Teachers are being told to search pupils for mobile phones under a crackdown unveiled by Gillian Keegan today.

The Education Secretary said the new guidance can ‘change the norms’ of children using mobiles at school.

It urges heads to include devices as items that can be searched for under behaviour policies.  

But unions and Labour said the move in England would make no difference, as most schools have already taken action. Heads also argued that Ms Keegan should be focusing on the issue of children’s access to harmful social media content.   

Mobile phones will be banned in schools under guidance to be issued to headteachers today (Stock Image)

Mobile phones will be banned in schools under guidance to be issued to headteachers today (Stock Image)

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the new guidance can 'change the norms' of children using mobiles at school

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the new guidance can ‘change the norms’ of children using mobiles at school

Steve Chalke, founded of the Oasis academy chain, said Ms Keegan needed to focus on the social media issues raised by Brianna Ghey's mother Esther

Steve Chalke, founded of the Oasis academy chain, said Ms Keegan needed to focus on the social media issues raised by Brianna Ghey’s mother Esther

The new rules back teachers in prohibiting phone use throughout the school day ¿ including at break times ¿ in a bid to minimise disruption and improve behaviour in classrooms (Stock Image)

The new rules back teachers in prohibiting phone use throughout the school day – including at break times – in a bid to minimise disruption and improve behaviour in classrooms (Stock Image)

The new rules back teachers in prohibiting phone use throughout the school day – including at break times – in a bid to minimise disruption and improve behaviour in classrooms.

It says that ‘headteachers can and should identify mobile and similar devices as something that may be searched for in their school behaviour policy’.

While many schools already ban mobiles, ministers hope the guidance will ensure consistency across all schools. 

Ms Keegan said she wanted to give teachers the tools to ‘take action to help improve behaviour and to allow them to do what they do best – teach’.

In a round of interviews, Ms Keegan told GB News: ‘Many of the ones who have a ban today will say you can’t take your phone out your bag, and if you take your phone out of your bag, then you’ll get the phone confiscated and you’ll get detention.

‘Sometimes that is effective. What we’re trying to do is change the norm in our schools, that phones are not acceptable in our schools. Some other countries have already done this, quite a few countries have already done this.’

She added: ‘There’s been some calls recently for social media to be banned for younger people, for smartphones to be banned for younger people. This is a step that I can take, which is to set the social norm that phones are banned in schools.

‘People will have a conversation, between parents and children as well, to say, ‘look, if your school says it’s no good for you in the day, then obviously it’s right to limit it’, though. That’s something that I hope will just set new norms really.’

But Steve Chalke, founded of the Oasis academy chain, said Ms Keegan needed to focus on the social media issues raised by Brianna Ghey’s mother Esther.

‘Instead of responding to Esther Ghey’s call for a law to tackle the pressing issue of children’s access to harmful mobile phone social media apps, the govt have chosen to give schools in England new guidance on the long non-existent issue of their use during the school day!’ he posted on X. 

In England, it is currently up to individual heads to decide policies on mobile phones and whether they should be banned. The guidance, which is non-statutory, instructs headteachers on how to ban the use of phones not only during lessons but during break and lunch periods as well.

It offers four different policies that schools can adopt to enforce it, including banning phones from the school premises, handing in phones on arrival at school, and keeping phones securely locked away at school.

A fourth option allows pupils to keep hold of their phones, provided they are never used, seen or heard. Almost all children – 97 per cent – now have mobile phones by the age of 12, according to Ofcom.

Last year, a UN report recommended smartphones should be banned from schools to improve learning and tackle classroom disruption and cyberbullying. Unesco, the UN’s education agency, pointed to evidence linking excessive mobile phone use to reduced educational performance.

Several studies have found links between phone use and poor mental health among children – including anxiety, depression and low self-esteem – and there are growing concerns that pupils are using mobiles to bully each other and for sexual harassment.

Mrs Keegan has warned that the internet has taken bullying ‘to new levels’, with bullies able to ‘prey on their victims in the safety of their own homes’.

Last week, the mother of Brianna Ghey, 16, who was murdered by two teenagers from her school, one of whom had watched videos of torture online, and the father of Molly Russell, 14, who took her own life after viewing harmful material on social media, joined forces to combat online harm. Ministers have previously attempted to ban mobile phones in classrooms. Three years ago, then-education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson launched a call for evidence on managing behaviour in schools – including the use of mobile phones.

But the proposed ban was ditched by his successor, Nadhim Zahawi.

The Mail revealed last October that Mrs Keegan was planning to order schools to outlaw smartphones.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said last night: ‘Growing up in today’s digital world provides immense opportunities but this should not come at the expense of our children’s wellbeing or education. 

That is why we have passed world-leading legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world for young people to be online. Today’s announcement will support parents and educators further.’

GILLIAN KEEGAN: Classrooms should be a sanctuary for children

A massive 97 per cent of children have mobile phones by the time they are 12. And the parents among us will know what that means for daily routines – disrupting bedtime, making it harder to focus on homework and struggling for conversation around the dinner table.

The problem spreads beyond the classroom – kids are playing on their mobiles in the playground, when they should be socialising or kicking a ball around.

It encourages solitude – something I’ve seen first-hand on my many trips to schools: children arched over their phones on their own, rather than getting to know their classmates.

I met my best friend at ten years old, a friendship that I cherish and has helped me appreciate the most important things in life – family and friends. Bullying on the other hand, has always been a problem at school – one that I take incredibly seriously.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan says the governments Online Safety Act will protect children from accessing harmful content

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan says the governments Online Safety Act will protect children from accessing harmful content

Ms Keegan: 'We are working with regulators to force social media firms to prevent children seeing harmful content or face huge fines and even jail time' (Stock Image)

Ms Keegan: ‘We are working with regulators to force social media firms to prevent children seeing harmful content or face huge fines and even jail time’ (Stock Image)

This is on top of harmful content that children can access on social media – such as misogynist, pornographic and lurid content that is highly unsuitable for children.

Our Online Safety Act is in place and while its impact is yet to be felt, it will protect children from accessing this harmful content. We are working with regulators to force social media firms to prevent children seeing harmful content or face huge fines and even jail time. I’m announcing new guidance that gives headteachers across the country clear and consistent advice to crack down on kids using mobiles at school. Some schools in the UK have already banned them – and the results speak for themselves. Where this has happened, schools have seen children concentrating, bullying falling and friendships blossoming.

Naturally there will be some instances where phones must be allowed – such as a child with diabetes who needs to check their glucose levels on an app. But the guidance puts in place a blueprint for headteachers to make the right decisions for their schools.

Our children deserve a world-class education. So it’s right that we take action urgently to ensure they are learning in the best environment possible – and I expect headteachers to start to plan the ban from today.

School years are some of the most precious and they pass us by in a blink of an eye. Children need to put down their phones, look up, and enjoy it while they can.



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