Phoning it in: mobile phones and the classroom

This week, the NSW Government made good on its election promise and announcement from earlier in the year to ‘ban’ mobile phones in all public high schools.

Despite the strong rhetoric involved, the ban is not universally a ‘ban’. It is interesting to note the diverse ways that individual public high schools have implemented the government’s directive; rather than a blanket rule, the initiative has been left to schools to address in a way that is consistent with their internal policies.

Some schools have approached the issue from the perspective of ‘off and away’, so students are still allowed to have their devices with them, but they need to be in their pockets or bags, and switched off or set to silent. Other schools mandate that phones need to be in lockers. Still others have lockable pouches or phone lockers. There is also a great diversity in consequences, ranging from warnings, confiscations and detentions to forcing parents to come to collect the phone from schools if students are found to be using them.

Many commentators have noted, as I did earlier in the year, that there is at best very weak or mixed empirical evidence about the potential harms of mobile phones, whether from an academic or a wellbeing perspective – besides which, device bans do little to stop bullying or improve grades.

For instance, Associate Professor Aliza Werner-Seidler, Head of Population Mental Health at the Black Dog Institute has said recently that the “evidence around the effects of banning phones at schools on academic outcomes is probably more mixed than the government would like to admit”, and I very much agree. 

At IGS, we try for a nuanced, proportionate, and positive stance on mobile phones. We attempt to teach students healthy digital habits, as well as accessing some of the power and utility of phones as multimedia and learning tools, while curbing their use of mobile devices when they are not needed.

If you would like to learn more about some of the research on this topic, and look into it yourself, please feel free to read the article that I wrote earlier in the year and follow some of the links that I provided. Or alternatively, reach out to me via and I can share the literature with you.