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Student phones banned at Victorian public schools

McKinnon Secondary College teacher Lauren Mauger with students Alyssa, 15, Akira, 15 Jordan, 14, and Ben, 15, have already faced the mobile phone ban. Courtesy: Jason Edwards

Principals, parents and students have weighed into the debate over the school phone ban while an expert fears the government is throwing “the baby out with the bathwater”.

Yesterday it was revealed a mobile phone ban will be enforced for students at every public school across Victoria from next year.

Students will be forbidden from having a mobile phone on them between the first school bell and the last, from Term 1 in 2020.

All mobile phones at both government primary and secondary campuses will have to be turned off and kept in pupils’ lockers under a new Andrews Government policy.

Exemptions will only apply for children who use phones to monitor health conditions, or when teachers instruct students to bring their phones to class for an activity.

Victoria’s Labor Government and the Federal Liberal Government have shown rare bipartisan support on the state’s school phone ban, to be enforced from next year.

Though others are not so convinced.

One 13-year-old student from a girls inner city school said she’s “not doing it”.

“It’s completely unfair,” she said.

“It’s not going to work for me.”

Other public school students have objected to the fact the ban is enforced for them, but not at private schools where friends attend.

Education minister James Merlino announced the ban on Wednesday, which aims to tackle cyber bullying and improve learning outcomes.

“This will remove a major distraction from our classrooms, so that teachers can teach, and students can learn in a more focused, positive and supported environment,” Mr Merlino said.

“Half of all young people have experienced cyber-bullying. By banning mobiles we can stop it at the school gate.”

Smart watches and iPads are not currently subject to the ban.

Monash University Faculty of Education Professor Neil Selwyn called the ban “a shame”.

“Our phones can be used for educational good,” he said.

Prof Selwyn said rather than forbidding phones outright, the government should be allowing schools to develop their own policies.

“There are clearly times in the school day when you don’t want to be using a device at all.

“Other times, there could be a real benefit.”

He said while the policy did allow teachers to be able to request students bring their phones to class when an educational activity called for it, he feared teachers would not do that.

“If there is a default ban, the danger is a teacher would stick to that ban,” he said.

A national survey by Monash University this year found four in five adults wanted a classroom phone ban.

But 68 per cent of adults said students should be allowed to bring mobiles to school for safety reasons.

Prof Selwyn expected students would break the rules and bring their phones to class anyway.

“The realities of policing this ban at the beginning of each lesson could be more trouble than it is worth,” he said.

McKinnon Secondary College banned mobile phones last year and principal Pitsa Binnion said “it instantly had an impact”.

There was a decline in classroom interruptions from phone calls, message pings and social media notifications.

Teachers could return to the front of the classroom, where they previously stood at the back to watch students weren’t distracted by devices.

And students’ excuses that they were “just checking the time” when busted with their phone were no longer echoed.

“But I think the most significant change became the heightened noise in the yard at lunch time — it was quite astounding,” she said.

“Kids were socialising.”

Ms Binnion said when the school implemented the ban last year, students “weren’t happy”.

“They struggled because they were so addicted to them — we all are,” she said.

“But it’s in their best interests.”

Teachers confiscated students’ phones on sight, forcing pupils to collect their devices from the principals’ office after a chat with Ms Binnion.

At the beginning, a long line of students came to the office every day.

“Now, we’re lucky to have four (phones confiscated) out of 2200,” she said.

Teachers also found it was often parents who called and sent messages to their kids during school hours, with some having a “need to know where their child was at every minute of the day”.

But Ms Binnion said “every parent who didn’t love it, they’ve all come around”.

“Everyone stood with us and we’re never looking back — the children have absolutely shone,” she said.

Parents Victoria posted a scathing statement on its social media account and condemned a lack of consultation with parent and student groups.

“Banning never works. We should be teaching students appropriate use of mobile phones,” it reads.

“Many schools expect students to access resources, timetable changes and important notices via an online platform.


“This will be much harder, and for some, impossible, without a phone.

“Policing this will be a nightmare for teachers and we seriously worry that this policy will result in unnecessary detentions and suspensions.”

Principals will work with the Department of Education and Training during term 3 to create resources and advice before phones are prohibited.

Discussions will also be held to work out where to store phones for children without a locker, particularly in primary schools.

In the case of emergencies, families will be urged to contact students by calling the school.

The ban will not impact Catholic or independent schools, though some private schools have already introduced their own ban.

The statewide policy will be a first for Australia, however NSW did enforce a phone ban this year for public primary schools only, while high schools could opt in.

The phone ban will be reviewed at the end of 2020.

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— Students talk more at recess and lunch

— More sport played during breaks

— Fewer interruptions in class

— Teachers instruct from the front of the class, rather than watching for phones at the back

— Stronger focus on learning