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Are mobile phones banned in schools?

Published Date: 18 Jun 2024

Emma Fraser is a Qualified Teacher of the Deaf and policy adviser. She’s been actively involved in supporting the Department for Education (DfE) to understand how mobile phones can be a lifeline to deaf pupils in mainstream education.

We all use our mobile phones countless times a day, but we also know that they can be a serious distraction. At least that’s what the government believed shortly before the election was called, as shown in recent guidance for schools in England prohibiting the use of mobile phones throughout the school day. 

The government stated:

“One of the greatest challenges facing schools is the presence of mobile phones. Mobile phones risk unnecessary distraction, disruption and diversion.”

But for many deaf children and young people, mobile phones are a lifeline. They help them learn in school, communicate with others and alert them to essential information that they otherwise might miss.

Families tell us that mobile phones help their deaf child to be independent, allowing them to keep in touch about everyday arrangements, for example, travelling to and from school.

And deaf young people tell us how mobile phones significantly reduce their feelings of isolation and anxiety, providing a way to socialise with their friends, classmates and others on a level playing field.

The benefits of mobile phones for deaf pupils

We asked deaf young people when they would use their mobile phones in school. Here are some examples of what they said.

  1. Hearing technology control: to control and adjust hearing technology in response to changing learning conditions. For example, group discussions or outdoor sessions.

  2. As a communication aid: to access speech through real-time transcription apps that convert spoken words into text or to access sign language interpretation through video calls.

  3. Visual learning apps: to access key learning tailored for them using images, videos and sign language tutorials. These can be especially useful for quick referencing in class.

  4. Group activities: to support inclusion and interaction during group sessions. For example, using text messaging, pre-recorded information, or recording the sessions so they can be revisited.

  5. Text messaging or vibration alerts: to make sure they do not miss key information or school-related reminders such as changes in classes, medication times or extra-curricular activities.

  6. Reporting problems with equipment: to contact audiology or their Teacher of the Deaf, so problems with hearing technology can be resolved quickly.

Does the ban include deaf pupils?

Damien Hinds, the then Minister of State for Schools, was asked what the department’s plans were to introduce mechanisms for students with special educational needs and disabilities to request exemptions from mobile phone bans based on their educational needs. This was the answer:

“All schools should have a behaviour policy which is aligned with the school’s legal duties and standards relating to the welfare of children. As part of this policy, schools should develop a mobile phone policy that prohibits the use of mobile phones and other smart technology with similar functionality to mobile phones.

“Exemptions may be required for children with specific special educational needs or disabilities, including users of assistive technology. Schools have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to take such steps as is reasonable to avoid substantial disadvantage to a disabled pupil caused by the school’s policies or practices.

“Allowing a disabled pupil access to their mobile phone during the school day, where it is necessary due to the nature of their disability, may be considered a reasonable adjustment and a failure to do so may be a breach of the school’s duty.”

 More on this topic

If you want to find out more about mobile phones and exams, check out the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf’s (BATOD) information.