Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wants the use of mobile phones in schools to be banned as part of a crackdown on bad behaviour following children’s “lack of regular structure and discipline” during lockdown.
Along with the launch of a £10m “Behaviour Hubs” programme, Mr Williamson has vowed to back headteachers who stop children from using mobile phones during the school day.
But a leading children’s charity has questioned Mr Williamson’s suggestion that pupils’ discipline will have declined following weeks of online learning.
And Labour MPs have hit out at the education secretary for appearing to criticise parents as they accused him of a “chaotic” handling of the COVID crisis for schools.
Under its “Behaviour Hubs” programme, the Department for Education aims to provide training for schools struggling with school discipline from those who work in high-performing counterparts.
In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Mr Williamson wrote: “Although remote learning was a tremendous success in terms of enabling children to carry on with their lessons from home, the lack of regular structure and discipline will inevitably have had an effect on their behaviour.
“There is bound to be a period of adjustment as everyone settles back into the rhythms of the classroom but we know that some children will find this more challenging than others.
“Maintaining good discipline is an absolute must in any classroom and is one of our key priorities.”
And, outlining his support for schools who forbid the use of mobile phones, the education secretary added: “While it is for every school to make its own policy, I firmly believe that mobile phones should not be used or seen during the school day, and will be backing headteachers who implement such policies.”
He added the government would be “consulting on how we can help heads remove phones from the school day, and other revisions to the behaviour and discipline and exclusion guidance” later this year.
Mr Williamson said there was “nothing Dickensian about a classroom that is a well-ordered, disciplined environment, where firm and fair teaching gives every child the chance to learn and develop at their own pace without fear of distraction”.
However, responding to the education secretary’s article, Children’s Society chief executive Mark Russell disputed Mr Williamson’s claims.
“The pandemic has been harmful to children and young people in so many ways,” he said.
“It has left many feeling isolated, missing friends and family and more exposed to risks both inside and outside the home.
“Despite this, we are not aware of any evidence that their behaviour is worse and our practitioners report that on the whole young people have been relieved to get back inside the classroom.
“This announcement from the secretary of state completely misses the bigger issue, which is children’s well-being.”
Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow schools minister Wes Streeting posted on Twitter: “Gavin Williamson has the AUDACITY to criticise PARENTS saying children lacked ‘order and discipline’ during lockdown.
“This from an education secretary whose leadership has been a CHAOTIC SHAMBLES. He should be grovelling to parents for forgiveness for this abysmal record.”
But Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, backed Mr Williamson’s plan.
“The union’s experience confirms that while there are many examples of excellent practice across the education system, some schools require further support to secure and sustain high standards of pupil behaviour,” he said.
“Behaviour hubs have the potential to identify ways that schools can learn from and support each other in maintaining and improving pupil discipline.”
He added: “Banning the use of mobile phones in schools by pupils is a measure that the NASUWT has long advocated, both to reduce distractions and encourage pupils to focus on their learning during the time they are in school and also to help tackle issues around bullying and social media abuse which can often be exacerbated by the use of phones during the school day.”