Pressure is mounting on private schools to ban mobile phones following Victoria’s decision to outlaw the devices in public schools.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan is calling on Catholic and independent schools, as well as other states and territories, to ban the devices and will put the issue on the agenda at Friday’s education council meeting.
“When I talk to parents and teachers the overwhelming majority want action on banning mobile phones in the classroom,” he said.
“I urge all states and territories and non-government schools to follow Victoria’s lead and ban mobile phones.”
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino, who on Tuesday unveiled one of the world’s toughest policies on phone use in schools, said he’d already been contacted by parents at Catholic schools who wanted a similar ban at their schools.
“I think Catholic and independent systems will look very closely at this policy,” he said.
Under strict new rules that come into effect from term 1 in 2020, state primary and secondary school students will be prohibited from using a mobile phone between the first and last school bell. They must turn off their phones and keep them in their locker, even during recess and lunch.
The Independent Education Union, which represents teachers working in non-government schools, is calling on Catholic and independent schools to consider adopting the same policy.
Deb James, the union’s general secretary for Victoria and Tasmania, said while students needed to be competent with technology, phones were a distraction and being used to bully students.
“I think schools should have a good look at this,” she said.
“A number of our members would be very supportive of bans or limitations. Teachers talk about students being distracted in class and are concerned about kids who are addicted to screens.”
But Catholic Education Melbourne active executive director Jim Miles said there were no plans to review the use of mobile phones across the Catholic sector.
“Policies related to the use of mobile phones are determined by each Catholic school individually,” he said.
A spokesman for Independent Schools Victoria said phone bans were also a matter for individual schools.
Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar School principal Marise McConaghy said phones were a useful learning tool and she was opposed to any ban. She said it was important that students learnt how to manage their phone use.
“That’s why I don’t understand the ban,” she said. “Particularly for the older girls, these girls are 18. They will be walking out the school gate and they have to get used to self-regulation.”
“As soon as you ban things, knowing teenagers, it makes them want it more sometimes.”
At the Canterbury independent school, students in primary levels and years 7 to 9 must store their phones in their lockers. But by the time they reach year 10, they are allowed to bring the devices into class and use them at recess and lunch.
While state and federal governments have no power to ban phones in non-government schools, many schools in the Catholic and independent sectors have already introduced their own bans.
Lauriston Girls’ School has had a mobile phone ban in place since 2016, with students in years 7 to 10 required to switch off their phones and keep them out of sight. While Year 11 and 12 students aren’t allowed to use their phones during class, they can use them at recess and lunch.
Liz Sannen, the school’s director of marketing and communication, said students and parents were not fussed by the changes.
“It was a proactive choice to make sure the focus was on their learning,” Ms Sannen said.
Mr Merlino said he’d thought long and hard about the issue, and while it wouldn’t be universally popular, it was “the right thing to do”.
Individual schools would have to work out sanctions for students who flouted the ban.
The move follows French schoolchildren under 15 being banned from using phones at school and the NSW government outlawing mobile phones in its public primary schools.