Oxford headteachers believe new guidance on mobile phones won’t make any “practical difference” and is deflecting from real issues schools face.

Ministers have moved ahead with a pledge to ban mobile phones in schools, publishing guidance the Department for Education said would ensure consistency in classrooms across England.

The new guidance has been hailed a "significant step" by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan who originally pledged to bring forward changes prohibiting mobile phone use in schools at last October’s Conservative conference.

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At the moment, it is up to individual heads to decide their own policies on mobile phones and whether they should be banned.

The promise was met with scepticism at the time, and one trade union on Monday branded it a “non-policy for a non-problem”.

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Headteachers in Oxford have echoed this sentiment while adding it distracts from “real issues” in education such as funding, Special Educational Needs (SEN) and teacher strikes.

The new 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 also suggests staff could search pupils and their bags for mobile phones if necessary, noting that “headteachers can and should identify mobile phones and similar devices as something that may be searched for in their school behaviour policy”.

Rob Pavey, headteacher at the Cheney School in Headington, said: “The new guidance is unlikely to make any practical difference in school.

“We already say that phones should not be seen or heard, and we confiscate them until the end of the day if they are seen.

“If a child needs to use their phone, there are lots of good reasons, such as checking their timetable. They just ask the nearest adult.

“This rule is well understood and well adhered to by the huge majority of our students, although a few will push the boundaries.”

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Herald Series: Cheney School headteacher Rob Pavey. Pictured on A-level results day 2023

At St John Fisher primary school in Littlemore, phones are handed in by year six students who walk to school.

Headteacher Paul Higgins said: “They go in the office and they are kept in the safe and they can collect them after school on their way out.

“I would imagine that would be the same at all primary schools.

"Every school I have worked in, that has been the case. By the time they are in year six, everyone has a phone.”

He added that school policies across secondary education “varies wildly” and believes the new guidance will detract from other issues.

“Different schools have different approaches. Some have a hard line approach and some are more relaxed”, he said.

“It feels more of like it’s 'let's announce news like this so we can hide from the real issues we need to talk about in education'.

“This includes the funding crisis, the SEN provision and teacher unions who are balloting for further strike actions.

“The discussion now becomes about mobile phones which to most schools doesn’t affect what they are doing right now because they will have policies in place anyways.”

An Oxford Mail poll on whether you think mobile phones should be banned had more than 3,000 responses at the time of writing.

Only 15 per cent thought phones should be banned meaning a large majority of 85 per cent believed phones should not be banned.

Oxford mum, Charlotte Mairead Carney, said: “Without my son having a mobile phone at school I would be anxious and worried.”

Kellie, who chose to keep her surname anonymous, said: “I don't think mobile phones in school are a big issue.

“I like my son to have his phone on him at school. If there is an issue he can get hold of me or his dad and for safety going to and from school.”

Another parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I have mixed opinions on this.

"I agree that handing phones in may be a good idea but on the other hand there is a risk with that, someone taking the wrong phone as most kids have the same phone.

“But at some schools,  I think the phones should be left with kids because if something happens parents can be contacted quickly if a child is scared."

What the authorities say on the issue

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the guidelines would provide “clarity and consistency” for teachers and there is “a large variation in how different schools are managing the use of mobile phones”.

In a statement, she said: “Schools are places for children to learn and mobile phones are, at a minimum, an unwanted distraction in the classroom.

“We are giving our hard-working teachers the tools to take action to help improve behaviour and to allow them to do what they do best – teach.”

Tom Bennet, who advises the Department for Education on behaviour, said: “Mobile phones may be ubiquitous, but we have a strong and growing understanding of how damaging they can be for a child’s social and educational development.

“Many schools already have some kind of policy on phones, but this guidance provides a clear steer for everyone, including parents, about what’s right and what’s not for the wellbeing of the child."

The Government pointed to recent official data showing 29 per cent of secondary school pupils reported mobile phones being used when they weren't supposed to be.

But the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said it did not expect the new guidance to make any discernible impact.

General Secretary Geoff Barton said that the “compulsive use” of devices was not happening in schools but “while children are out of school”.

He said: “Most schools already forbid the use of mobile phones during the school day or allow their use only in limited and stipulated circumstances.

“We have lost count of the number of times that ministers have now announced a crackdown on mobile phones in schools. It is a non-policy for a non-problem.

“The Government would be far better off putting its energies into bringing to heel the online platforms via which children are able to access disturbing and extreme content.”