Mobile phone ban in SA driving decline in school incidents - Education Matters Magazine
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Mobile phone ban in SA driving decline in school incidents

A State Government ban on mobile phone use in public high schools in South Australia has reduced violent incidents, according to latest data.

Most recent figures show an average 29 per cent decrease in violent incidents in Terms 3 and 4 of 2023 compared to a similar period in 2022:

• Before the ban – 319 incidents in Terms 3 and 4, 2022
• After the ban – 228 incidents in Terms 3 and 4, 2023

This is based on all schools with secondary enrolments (131 in total) and includes onsite violence involving punching and kicking between secondary students.

The ban was a key election commitment to reduce distraction in the classroom and stop some of the bullying that occurs through social media, with both outcomes leading to improved learning.

The ‘off and away’ policy came into full effect from Term 3 last year, with some schools adopting the policy earlier during the year.

Previous anecdotal evidence had shown, particularly at break times, teachers had seen an increase in physical activity and involvement in extracurricular clubs, with principals talking about the change in culture in the schoolyard with students playing together and chatting, rather than heads down looking at their phones.

The success of the ban in South Australia has been watched closely by other states with the new NSW Government recently announcing its own school phone ban.

It’s also on the national agenda with all education ministers recently agreeing to a national commitment to ban, restrict or manage the use of mobile phones in government schools, following the success of the South Australian rollout.

In SA, all public high school students must switch their devices off or onto flight mode and put them away during school hours, in break times and on school excursions.

The rollout of the policy is being supported through the State Budget with $515,000 to assist schools with practical requirements such as pouches, lockers or other infrastructure to implement the policy.

The policy specifically bans all personal devices with the capability to connect to internet networks including mobile phones, tablets and smart watches, but does not apply to school-owned technologies or learning devices brought under Bring Your Own Device programs.

SA’s Minister for Education, Training and Skills, Mr Blair Boyer, said the ban is about better academic outcomes for students free from distraction, improved social skills development, and reduced cyber bullying.

“We promised we would ban mobile phones in secondary schools, and we have delivered on that promise, working with schools to get it right. South Australia is leading the way with this policy with the nation paying close attention to what we’re doing,” he said.

“I knew this was the right policy for our high schools as I had seen up close the damage that distraction and cyber bullying was causing at school. Bullying can be 24/7 for young people today, and there is no doubt in my mind that it plays an enormous part in the deteriorating mental health of students.”

Mr Boyer said the preliminary data shows that the government’s decision to ban mobile phones was on the right track.

“Incidents of violence and students using mobile phones to engage in bullying behaviour have significantly reduced – which, as Education Minister, is incredibly heartening because I want students to feel engaged and connected at school. It’s so important to their future success,” he said.

Chief Executive of the South Australian Secondary Principals’ Association, Ms Jayne Heath, said the use of mobile phones has not only been an issue in high schools, but a wider community issue.

“We’ve had some really good consultation in helping develop this policy so that it accurately reflects the issues raised by principals and their school communities,” she said.

“I’m so pleased to see the preliminary data reflect a decrease in serious violent incidents as it’s important for students to feel engaged in their schooling and their school community.

“What has also been pleasing is the great feedback from principals, teachers – and most importantly students – who have recognised the important role this policy plays in their wellbeing at school,” she said.

More reading

‘Away for the day’ campaign paves the way for school mobile phone ban

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