Managing conflict that arises from prohibiting the use of mobile phones in schools

CPI’s behaviour expert discusses how to manage the conflict that may arise from the prohibition of mobile phones in school

25 April 2024
Huw Lloyd
Five school children walking in a libary

Government guidance on mobile phones in schools

In February 2024, the current Government released new guidance to schools ‘Mobile phones in schools, how schools can prohibit the use of mobile phones throughout the school day.’

In reality there is nothing in this document that schools across the country are not already doing, as it gives a range of proposals as to how schools could manage mobile phones, from an outright ban, to handing them in, or adopting the ‘as long as we don’t see them, we don’t care’ approach.

While every school I have visited already implements one of these policies or a variant of them that suits their needs, this new guidance looks to make the Government’s wishes much clearer, stating ‘we are determined that all schools should prohibit the use of mobile phones throughout the school day – not only during lessons but break and lunchtimes as well.’

Promoting a digital detox

The Government provides evidence and statistics to support the new guidance, stating that by age twelve, 97% of pupils own a mobile phone and that one in five pupils have experienced bullying online.

They also state that three in ten pupils cite making and maintaining friendships and their mental health as a cause of worry, anxiety or depression. Therefore, by removing mobile phones, children and young people can spend more time staying active and socialising face to face with their peers, and engaging in activities which have a positive impact on their wellbeing.

Will eliminating mobile phones improve the statistics?

I question, however, whether removing mobile phones will improve the statistics in the long run, or whether it will just kick the can down the road a little.

Anyone who has worked with young people, has their own children or let’s be honest any human being knows the best way to make someone want something more is to tell them they can’t have it. It breeds resentment and confrontation, increases the chances of pupils being devious and encourages them to be so along with creating conflict where there doesn’t need to be. 

Would it not be better to build the culture that is talked about in the new document by educating pupils on how to effectively manage their mobile phone use?

Building a culture of respect

Mobile phones/smart devices are here to stay. Let’s build a culture of pragmatism around these devices, where pupils use them in the right way, not because of the fear of one of the many suggested sanctions in the guidance, but because it is the right thing to do.  

This idea is one which is embedded throughout the Classroom Culture™ programme which we deliver to schools and institutions across the world, promoting positive behaviour, not for fear of reprimand, but because of the principle of ‘this is how we do it here!’ 

This mantra develops a culture and ethos of consistency, togetherness, and respect. One which educates and works restoratively to promote positive behaviour. 

Managing challenging behaviour 

I am not naïve enough to think that creating a culture of consistency, togetherness and respect is easy. Or to think that all pupils will learn this message quickly and get it right all the time. However, with hard work and a consistent approach you can begin to cultivate a restorative culture. 

I am also not naïve enough and nor should anyone believe that pupils will meet expectations without argument or exasperation. Of course, there will be occasions when negative behaviour or failure to meet expectations will need to be challenged.  

When these challenges arise, staff need to feel equipped with the right tools to respond safely. 

  • Scripted intervention:
    School staff can use a scripted intervention to ensure a consistent approach. This way all pupils will know what to expect in certain situations and any restorative consequences can be implemented consistently across all staff.  
  • Fights between students:
    If the situation escalates between students, it is important that school staff know how to safely breaking up fights, by minimising harm and maximising safety for all. 

The importance of emotional safety 

Consider these questions, 

  • How far is your mobile phone from you right now? Thirty centimetres, a metre, across the room?
  • When was the last time you looked at it?
  • When was the last time you checked your notifications or an e-mail?
  • How would you feel if you didn’t know where your phone was or couldn’t check it?
  • Would you feel anxious? A little nervous? Maybe less able to concentrate?  

As adults, we are capable of being more rational, not going through puberty and teenage angst. Now imagine you are a teenager who has lived all their life with and potentially through a mobile phone. If teenagers have those feelings in school, are they likely to be as focused, are they likely to feel as safe, are they likely to engage positively with peers and school staff? 

I will let you answer that last question, however from my experience, children work, learn and behave more positively when they feel emotionally and physically safe, when they can concentrate on their learning and when they are engaging positively with staff and peers. 

Classroom Management Tips

Download this free guide to remaining calm and responding right when a student challenges.


Working together to manage mobile phone use 

How do we navigate the seemingly never-ending question of mobile phones in school? I don’t believe the answer is to ban phones outright and to put policies in place that generate confrontation and anxiety.  

I believe we work with pupils, to be consistent by understanding and creating a culture in your classroom and school of togetherness, community and responsibility. 


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