The Case for a Smartphone Ban in Schools

April 30, 2024

A range of factors have been suggested as catalysing the decline in the mental health of children and young people in recent years.  Perhaps the most significant hypothesis is the link between smartphone ownership, social media use and a greater prevalence of mental and behavioural disorders amongst children and young people.

A major Policy Exchange study – backed by leading psychologist and bestselling author, Professor Jonathan Haidt – examines that link and considers the effectiveness of smartphone bans in schools as a pragmatic and preventative policy intervention.

The report’s findings – which are based upon Freedom of Information requests to primary and secondary schools in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – finds secondary schools with an effective ban on phones are more than twice as likely to be rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted as schools without.

Children at schools with an effective ban achieved GCSE results that were 1 – 2 grades higher (equivalent to a Progress 8 differential of 0.13 – 0.25) compared to children at schools with laxer policies. This is despite the fact that schools with effective bans had a higher proportion of pupils eligible for Free School Meals than schools with less restrictive policies.

Policy Exchange recommend:

  1. For School leaders to implement effective bans on mobile phones. In order for them to be most effective, it is recommended that phones are handed in or stored in lockers, Yondr pouches (or equivalent) at the beginning of each day, or alternatively banned from site.
  2. For Government to carefully monitor whether or not schools are implementing effective bans on phones and, if the situation does not improve within a year, for the current guidance to become statutory and binding.
  3. For Ofsted to incorporate the emerging body of evidence on mobile phones into its Education Inspection Framework and inspector training.
  4. For Teacher Training providers to ensure they incorporate the latest evidence on phones, social media and mental health into their curricula. This should include teaching about effective models of phone bans and enforcements.
  5. For the Children’s Commissioner to use her statutory powers to extend the study in this report to a much larger number of schools.
  6. For the Education Endowment Foundation to carry out further research to assess and investigate the impact of effective phone bans on school performance, pupil attainment, mental health and bullying.

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Dr Sean Phillips

Head of Health and Social Care

Iain Mansfield

Director of Research and Head of Education and Science

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