Press release: Impact of smartphones on behaviour in lessons to be reviewed

An investigation into how to train teachers to tackle poor pupil behaviour will be expanded to cover wider issues such as the use of mobile phones and other devices in schools, Schools Minister Nick Gibb announced today (13 September 2015).

In June, the government expert former teacher Tom Bennett to lead a review into how initial teacher training prepares teachers for tackling low-level disruption in class – but now his role will be expanded to look at all of the challenges of managing behaviour in 21st-century schools.

Appropriately used, technology can offer opportunities to enhance the educational experience of pupils – devices such as tablets and smartphones are used by many schools to aid teaching. Teachers, however, have reported that the growing number of children bringing personal devices into class is hindering teaching and leading to disruption.

In May, the London School of Economics found that banning mobile phones from classrooms could benefit students’ learning by as much as an additional week’s worth of schooling over an academic year. The report found that banning phones would most benefit low-achieving children and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has already called for more schools to ban children from bringing phones into lessons – a major issue that Tom Bennett will now review.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

Since 2010 we have given teachers more power to ensure good behaviour in the classroom. But we need to make sure the advice we give to schools and the approaches being used across the country are fit for the 21st century when even primary school pupils may be bringing in phones or tablets.

That is why we have taken the decision to expand Tom Bennett’s review to look at how teachers can tackle bad behaviour.

Whether it is the use of mobile phones in schools or the attitudes of parents to their child’s behaviour in class, we will now probe deeper into behaviour more generally to ensure that no child has to put up with having their education disrupted by misbehaviour.

Tom Bennett, school behaviour expert, said:

Technology is transforming society and even classrooms – but all too often we hear of lessons being disrupted by the temptation of the smartphone.

Learning is hard work and children are all too aware of this. So when they have a smartphone in their pocket that offers instant entertainment and reward, they can be easily distracted from their work.

This is a 21st-century problem and the majority of schools are dealing with it effectively. But I will now probe deeper into this issue, and behaviour challenges more broadly, to uncover the real extent of the problem and see what we can do to ensure all children focus on their learning.

A 2013 survey suggested that the vast majority of schools have some form of mobile phone policy in place. One third of schools ban mobile phones outright, with a further fifth limiting their use in lessons.

GCSE results at the Ebbsfleet Academy in Kent have almost doubled since the school banned smartphones in 2013, with Jon Coles, the head of United Learning, which runs the school, claiming the ‘costs of trying to have mobile phones in use in school are much greater than the opportunities’.

The White Horse Federation of 7 primary schools in Swindon also bans mobile phones during the school day in order to improve pupil behaviour.

Today the Schools Minister is also announcing the behaviour experts that will assist Tom Bennett in his review of how teachers are trained to tackle poor behaviour. Tom will be supported by:

  • John D’Abbro, head of the New Rush Hall Group, an organisation that works with children with social-emotional and behavioural difficulties
  • John Tomsett, headteacher of Huntingdon School, a founding member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable and prominent online blogger
  • Damien MacBeath, headteacher of the ‘outstanding’-rated ARK Conway Primary Academy in London
  • Edward Vainker, principal of the ‘outstanding’-rated Reach Academy Feltham
  • Professor Sam Twiselton, director of the Sheffield Institute of Education and key member of Sir Andrew Carter’s review of initial teacher training
  • Jacinta Barnard, child behaviour consultant
  • Jonathan Molver, headteacher of the ‘outstanding’-rated King Solomon Academy in London
  • Max Heimendorf, founding headteacher of King Solomon Academy Secondary School

The detailed remit and membership for the second, wider review announced today will be confirmed in due course. It will focus on what effective behaviour management looks like in schools, building on Charlie Taylor’s work in the last Parliament, and on Tom Bennett’s expertise as the TES behaviour guru and from his early impressions in his recently appointed role.

Thanks to the government’s reforms and the hard work of teachers, school behaviour has been transformed since 2010:

  • fewer pupils are persistently absent from school than ever before, with the number of pupils in this category almost halving since 2010
  • more teachers rated behaviour in their schools as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ in 2014 than when previously surveyed in 2008

The government’s reforms include a number of measures to encourage good behaviour and attendance in school, including:

  • changing the law so that headteachers only grant leave from school in exceptional circumstances
  • encouraging schools to tackle the problem of persistent absence earlier by reducing the threshold by which absence is defined as persistent from 20% to 15% from October 2011 – this means schools are held to a higher standard in performance tables than before
  • making clear that teachers can use ‘reasonable force’ to maintain behaviour and extending their searching powers from 2011
  • allowing teachers to impose same-day detentions from 2011

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