Mobile phones will be banned in Canberra public schools from Term 1, 2024. Here’s what you need to know

Mobile phones will be banned in Canberra public schools from Term 1, 2024. Here’s what you need to know
  • PublishedDecember 6, 2023

From Term 1 next year, students in Preschool up to Year 10 will not be able to use their mobile phone, smart watch or any other personal communication devices at school.

Following a public consultation period, the ACT government announced the policy today, bringing Canberra schools into step with other jurisdictions in the country.

“It was pretty overwhelmingly clear that everybody had decided that now was the time that we needed to remove phones from classrooms,” ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry told ABC Radio Canberra.

“Over the last couple of months, we had 3,200 people contribute [to the consultation], which included students, parents and carers, school staff, [Education] Directorate employees, and just general members of the ACT community.

“We asked them to consider what option would they prefer as far as devices and phones being allowed in schools, and how they should be managed.

“They told us that they would prefer that devices weren’t allowed in schools, and so that’s what we’re going ahead with from Term 1, 2024.”

Close up of a smart watch, as worn by a seven-year-old boy.
The ban will also apply to smart watches. (ABC News: Rebecca Trigger)

The new policy applies to all ACT public school students and their “Personal Communication Devices”, which includes mobile phones and any other handheld or wearable devices like smart watches. However, Chromebooks are excluded from the policy.

The ACT government is hopeful the policy will limit “sources of distraction” and improve digital literacy skills for students.

“This is an issue that is more broadly felt in the community, about the inappropriate use of phones and communication devices,” Ms Berry said.

“Our schools are just a mirror of what happens more broadly in our community. But if we can work towards making sure that our students are good digital citizens, perhaps that can be passed on and learned from … past the school gates when they leave their school communities.”

So what’s in the policy?

From Term 1 2024, public school students from Preschool to Year 10:

  • will not be able to use or access personal communications devices at school, including recess and lunch, unless the school principal has approved a formal and specific exemption;
  • will not be able to use or access personal communications devices at school-authorised events, such as camps and excursions; and
  • are strongly encouraged not to bring their personal communications to school.

The policy does not apply to activities not managed or supervised by the school, such as before and after-school care (OSHC), or external providers using a school site for out-of-hours activities.

Students who require access to a personal communications device immediately before or after school will be permitted to do so, but how these devices are stored during the school day will be up to individual schools.

“Some schools in the ACT have piloted using bags you can put phones in at the start of the school day,” Ms Berry said.

“Some other schools might require that students keep them in places outside of their contact.

“We won’t be searching children’s bags, that’s probably a step too far. But what we will be doing is making sure the policy is clearly understood by students and families, and school staff.”

How about college students?

Boys in black and blue uniform sit at desks using laptop computers.
College students will be permitted to have personal communication devices during school hours and at school events but they must be silenced and put away. (Supplied: Gungahlin College)

Students in college — that’s Years 11 and 12 in the ACT — will be permitted to have personal communication devices during school hours and at school events, but the devices “must be silenced and put away” during class time — meaning the device cannot be “on a student’s person, on the student’s desk or in the student’s work area”.

College students will also not be permitted to connect to their device via physical wires, wireless tethering, Bluetooth or hotspot during class times.

College students will be permitted to use their devices at other times, such as during recess or lunch.

Exemptions to the policy can approved by the school principal, or by a teacher, if a personal communications device is required explicitly to support a lesson.

How do I access an exemption?

Veronica stands in school grounds looking into the camera, wearing a scarf and coat.
Executive officer for the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Association Veronica Elliot welcomed the news there would be exemptions to the policy.(ABC News: Tahlia Roy)

The Education Directorate indicated that school-hour exemptions could be granted for students under certain circumstances, including:

  • students who need their device to manage or monitor a medical condition; and
  • students who need to meet caring or family responsibilities.

Exemptions will be granted on a case-by-case basis by school principals, and will have to be accompanied by “supporting evidence”, such as a statement from a GP.

“We do need those exemptions for particular students,” Veronica Elliott, executive officer for the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Association, said.

“[For example] students with diabetes, who have an application on their phones to monitor their blood glucose levels, and others [with] quite different needs, like students who might be neurodiverse and need some tools to assist with emotional regulation. 

“But what we’re really hoping is that people will be supportive of the policy, and will encourage their students to comply with the policy.”

Will the policy be manageable? 

Teacher at the front of a classroom of students
The ACT government acknowledged concerns the mobile phone ban would mean more work for teachers. (Unsplash: Taylor Flowe)

Principals will be responsible for ensuring the policy is implemented, and teachers and school staff will be responsible for “making students aware of the policy and implementing it in classrooms, on school grounds during school hours and during authorised school events”.

But for an already overworked workforce, the prospect is daunting.

Australian Education Union ACT branch president Angela Burroughs acknowledged teachers had wanted to see consistency in relation to mobile phones in schools. 

But she said there were concerns around the timing of the announcement — just before the end of the school year — and the lack of consultation about exactly how it would be implemented. 

“We have some questions to ask about what support and resources will be available to teachers and school leaders,” she said. 

“If there are possibilities to streamline the process … it seems in the procedures to be unnecessarily complicated.”

However, while Ms Burroughs expected “teething issues”, she was also keen to get on with implementing the policy and was hopeful the transition period of a term would be long enough to work through them. 

“Let’s get on with it and move to a consistent approach to the use of mobile phones in ACT public schools,” she said. 

Two women look at a blue policy document
Education Minister Yvette Berry shows the mobile phone policy to Veronica Elliott, executive officer for the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Association.( ABC News: Emmy Groves )

Ms Berry recognised that there were concerns the policy would “be a challenge to manage”.

But she hoped that having a blanket mobile phone policy across the public school system would make it easier.

“What I’m hearing is that people want phones to be managed consistently across the system, and so that’s what we’ll do,” she said.

“If every other school is doing the same thing, it should make a difference for them to be able to manage these phones.”

While the policy will be introduced at the start of Term 1, a “transition period” will apply until the end of Term 1, to allow time for teachers “to manage their classes” and families to seek exemptions if needed.

SOURCE: ABCNEWS

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