Push for Australia-wide school phone ban

The federal government is looking to follow Victoria's lead and ban mobile phones in school hours.
The federal government is looking to follow Victoria's lead and ban mobile phones in school hours.

All Australian states and territories will be asked to ban students using mobile phone during school hours.

The proposal follows Victoria's decision to ban phones at public schools from next year in an effort to tackle cyberbullying and distraction in the classroom.

It will be put to education ministers at a meeting in Melbourne on Friday.

The devices have been banned in French schools and Canadian provinces are looking at the policy, with experts from both countries visiting Australia in coming months to discuss the issue.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said he welcomed Victoria's decision and hoped all other states and territories followed suit because phones are a distraction in the classroom.

"With this move from Victoria my hope is we will see other states and territories follow suit," he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

"It's very difficult for teachers to teach when they are trying to discipline against the constant use of mobile phones."

From term one in 2020, Victorian students from prep to year 12 will have to switch off their phones and store them in lockers until the final bell.

Exceptions will only be granted to students who use their phones to monitor health conditions or if teachers instruct students to bring their phone for a particular activity.

In the case of an emergency, parents or guardians can reach their child by calling the school.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said the ban was modelled on that of McKinnon Secondary College, a high-performing state school in Melbourne's southeast which found students became more focused during class and louder in the schoolyard.

"Students are more engaged in the classroom and in the schoolyard, they're talking to each other rather than looking at their phones," Mr Merlino said.

He said the move would also help "stop cyberbullying at the gate", citing recent research from non-profit youth mental health organisation Headspace which found more than half of all young people have experienced cyberbullying.

"I know this won't be universally popular, but I've come to the conclusion that it's the right thing to do," Mr Merlino said.

NSW is banning mobiles at public primary schools from 2020 and is recommending the devices are not brought into high school classrooms.

"We want to see less devices, less distractions for students in the classroom and the guidelines have been in place in NSW for some time," Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

"But we do leave - especially for senior students - leave it to the discretion of the high schools, especially in relation to sometimes people use their phones as part of a class."

But the bans do have their critics, including online safety group Family Zone Cyber Safety.

"Our research shows that phone bans are often resisted and easily ignored by parents and students," Family Zone managing director Tim Levy said in a statement.

"It is naive to think that banning mobile phones will be the panacea to issues relating to personal device use at school.

"The answer is to provide parents, teachers and schools with the policy choices and tools they need to manage the risks and take advantage of the opportunities of mobility," he said.

Australian Associated Press