Review into the non-educational use of mobile devices in NSW schools

The independent review into the non-educational use of mobile digital devices in NSW schools is complete.

On Thursday 13 December 2018, the NSW government announced that in response to the recommendations made by review team the use of mobile devices during school hours will be restricted in NSW public primary schools. NSW public high schools can opt into this restriction or pursue the approach that best suits their circumstances and the needs of their diverse communities.

The NSW Department of Education will be working toward implementing this reform during the course of 2019 – this restriction did not come into force on 1 January 2019. Guidance on possible approaches and resources for schools will be provided during 2019.

Some students with disability rely on the use of a mobile device and may be exempt from the restriction. The provision of reasonable adjustments, such as use of a mobile device, is established through a collaborative planning process. School staff will continue to consult with the student, parents and carers to ensure the personalised learning and support needs of students with disability and additional learning and support needs are addressed.

The NSW Government is currently considering the other recommendations and findings made in the review report.

Frequently asked questions are detailed below.

The review was commissioned by the NSW Minister for Education in June 2018. The Minister appointed child psychologist, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg to lead the review. Dr Carr-Gregg appointed two other independent experts, Associate Professor Amanda Third and cybersafety expert Susan McLean, to support with the review.

The review was informed by public consultation and the views of students, parents, teachers, principals, experts (in the field of child development, cyberbullying, mental health and technology) and other interested community members. The review team received nearly 14,000 survey responses and 80 written submissions.

The review team would like to thank the thousands of people who invested their time and energy in completing surveys, making submissions and providing commentary informing the work of the review. In particular, they would like to acknowledge the input from the many thousands of young people who took the time and effort to make submissions. The review team are also grateful to the many external experts consulted during this process.

Scope of the review

The terms of reference for the review were as follows:

  1. Conduct a review of evidence related to the benefits and risks of mobile digital devices*, primarily smartphones, in schools for children and young people and approaches and practices to support students’ use of such devices in safe, responsible, and informed ways. This will include:
    1. An international literature review on the use and impact of mobile digital devices in all school settings – primary, secondary, Schools for Specific Purposes (SSPs) and Central Schools. This will include peer-reviewed scholarship from across disciplines and ‘grey’ literature (such as program evaluations and reports on evidence-based interventions).
    2. Stakeholder consultation and feedback via focus groups and other mechanisms.

    The consultation with children and young people will include when, how, and why they use mobile digital devices in order that the review’s recommendations align with and can effectively and meaningfully impact their practices.

  2. The review will assess the extent to which having mobile digital devices in schools may contribute to or exacerbate identified risks, including cyber-bullying, image-based abuse, and access to online harm in schools.
  3. The review will identify how children and young people can best be prepared to mitigate identified risks.
  4. The review will identify best-practice approaches and practices for schools and parents to support students’ use of mobile digital devices in safe, responsible, and informed ways to promote learning and respectful relationships.
  5. The review will consider whether a restriction or other limits should be placed on smartphone use for children in primary schools or children in certain age brackets. The practices of other jurisdictions will be informative in this regard.

*Mobile digital device: a hand-held electronic device that can receive, store, process and send digital information.

Frequently asked questions

What do you mean by ‘ban’ or restriction? Can primary students still take a phone to school so parents can contact them?

  • Primary students can still take a phone to school but it will need to be kept in their bag or stored elsewhere and turned off ;during school hours, unless a teacher gives them permission.
  • In emergencies, parents can still contact their children through school administration offices.

Will anyone be exempt from the restriction?

  • Students who require access to a mobile phone because of a disability or other health issue will be exempt. Identifying and responding to the personalised learning and support needs of all students, especially those with disability and additional learning and support needs, is an ongoing school process of collaborative planning and consultation with the student and their parents or carers.

When will this take effect?

  • Full implementation for all NSW public schools will occur in Term 1, 2020.

How will schools implement the restriction?

  • Secondary principals retain final discretion to determine the extent to which phones are restricted in their schools.
  • To help primary schools with implementing this restriction, a new policy is being piloted on a voluntary basis from Term 3 2019.
  • Schools participating in the pilot are being supported to engage their school community and review their existing procedures that will underpin the restriction.

How will I know if my school is participating in the pilot?

  • Schools will advise their school communities if they are participating in the pilot.

Why aren’t you restricting phones in high schools as well?

  • We recognise that technology plays an important and increasing role as students progress through their education.
  • We want to give secondary schools the flexibility to balance the benefits and risks of technology in the way that best supports their students.

What did the review involve?

  • In June 2018, the NSW Government announced a review in to the use of mobile devices in schools in response to growing concerns in the community.
  • The Government announced the six-month review was to be led by Dr Michael Carr-Gregg.
  • The review captured thousands of submissions from students, educators, parents/carers, and experts in mental health, technology and cyber safety.

What were the other recommendations?

  • There are eight key recommendations in the review that have practical and resourcing implications which we need to carefully consider. We will work with schools and consult with principals and teachers in the coming months on the best way forward.
  • Some of the other recommendations include providing greater training for teachers and students about online safety and reviewing existing online safety education in the curriculum.

Shouldn’t we just be teaching students to use devices safely?

  • We all share a responsibility to ensure students are equipped with the technical skills and social and emotional competencies to use technology responsibly and effectively.
  • We are not restricting the use of all devices, just their use when not in direct support of education and when not authorised by a teacher.

What sort of risks are students facing when they use these devices?

  • More students are bringing mobile devices to schools and are doing so at an earlier age than ever before, exacerbating risks. Some of the potential risks include: cyberbullying, image-based abuse, access to pornography, distraction from learning and reduced opportunities for face-to-face social interaction and physical exercise.

We know cyberbullying happens outside of school and at all hours. How will restricting phones inside schools help solve this problem?

  • Just like parents are responsible for their children when they’re at home, schools have a responsibility to ensure that we protect the welfare of our students when they are in our care. Restricting the use of smartphones in schools reflects this commitment.
  • We have balanced this responsibility and commitment against our recognition that cyberbullying is a complex issue that requires a range of approaches and strategies.

Is this just the government implementing another restriction of something it doesn’t like?

  • No. The restriction reflects the Government’s commitment to take action on things that matter to school communities. Through this review, we heard parents, teachers and students acknowledge that smartphones are a distraction in class (even though they may also provide other benefits). The significant risks and harms these devices present for children and young people mean we have a responsibility to act.

Do the recommendations put more pressure on teachers in an already over-crowded curriculum?

  • Teachers already routinely incorporate and manage the use of devices in classes and schools. The school-based discussions, approaches and policies that could result from this review are intended to provide greater clarity, consistency and certainty for teachers.
  • The recommendations reflect the shared responsibility that parents, schools and students have in managing devices and that this responsibility does not solely sit with teachers and schools.

What will be the consequences for a primary school student who is caught with a mobile phone during school time?

  • Primary schools will retain discretion to administer and enforce the restriction in the way that best suits their school community.
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