Gavin Williamson urges schools to crack down on discipline and mobile phone use after lockdown ‘inevitably’ affected pupils

The long periods spent at home during lockdown have impacted children’s “discipline and order” and a crackdown in schools is needed, the education secretary has said.

Gavin Williamson has made banning mobile phones a key part of his plan to push back against bad behaviour following a pandemic year which has “inevitably” affected pupils stuck at home.

Mr Williamson said that now the country was gradually moving out of lockdown it was vital to ensure that “out-of-control behaviour” did not curtail learning.

He wants schools to take “firm action” when faced with consistent “bad behaviour”, including detentions, suspensions and expulsions, he wrote in a column for the The Daily Telegraph.

Mr Williamson’s comments follow the launch of a £10m “behaviour hub” programme by the Department for Education, which will begin in the summer term.

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The programme involves utilising advice from 22 “lead schools” with good reputations for behaviour and discipline to assist and advise other schools struggling in that area.

Mr Williamson also said he would support schools who ban the use of mobile phones as they distract from “exercise and good old-fashioned play”, as well as contributing to cyberbullying and the inappropriate use of social media.

“While technology has been invaluable keeping children learning during lockdowns and we support its use, it’s now time to put the screens away, especially mobile phones,” Mr Williamson wrote.

He added: “Maintaining good discipline is an absolute must in any classroom and is one of our key priorities. Out-of-control behaviour will also destroy the wholesome and happy environment that every school should have, leading to bullying, and turning playgrounds from a place of joy to a jungle.

“That’s why I am totally behind schools and colleges taking firm action to create a disciplined and calm environment, and putting in place a strong behaviour culture where students are taught how to behave well and are clear about what is expected of them.”

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the education secretary needs to “do his homework.”

“The feedback we’ve been receiving from our members is that the education secretary has not done his homework on the issue of behaviour in the classroom,” he said.

“Quite contrary to what Mr Williamson has said, heads are reporting a sense of calm and co-operation from students that is deeply impressive. Young people are relaxed and pleased to be back at school and, most importantly, behaviour has never been better.

“There are much bigger fish needing to be fried by the government, not least the perilous state of education funding and the arrangements for next year’s GCSE and A-levels.

“There is much that the education secretary could be getting on with, rather than jumping to wild assumptions about school behaviour and reaching for crowd-pleasing announcements about mobile phone bans.”

He added that most heads already expect phones to be out of sight throughout the day and “won’t appreciate government lectures on the issue”.

Mr Williamson’s comments come after a new survey suggests the majority of teachers do not believe extending the school day or changing term lengths is vital for helping children catch up with missed learning due to the pandemic.

More than two-thirds of teachers believe pupils should be supported through sport and exercise (68 per cent) and increased creative and practical learning (66 per cent), the poll found.

The education secretary has confirmed that a change to the summer holidays and longer school days are being considered as part of long-term recovery plans for children who have missed out on lessons.

But a survey from the National Education Union suggests that 82 per cent of teachers believe schools and colleges should be given flexibility to decide what is important for learning and wellbeing.

Additional reporting by PA

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