Government advice that has backed teachers in their right to search a pupil or their belongings for mobile phones has been met with a mixed response from Suffolk education leaders.

In new guidance issued by on Monday, the Department for Education said all schools should ban the use of phones throughout the school day, including break and lunchtimes.

The advice has been met with a mixed response by Suffolk education leaders, who say that most schools have been implementing this anyway.

The guidance called mobile phones “one of the greatest challenges” in education, with one in three high schools reporting pupils using a phone in most lessons without permission, disrupting lessons for the whole class.

The report also expressed the impact of the ban on the welfare of pupils, encouraging them to stay active and socialise face-to-face with peers.

Dave Lee-Allen, former head at Stowmarket High School, welcomed the positive aspects of the new guidance.

Mr Lee-Allen, who left the role in September, said: “The schools that I visit now – and that I ran – where there were no mobile phones, there was an increase in the sociability of pupils, which is the positive side to all of this.

East Anglian Daily Times: Dave Lee-Allen, former head at Stowmarket High SchoolDave Lee-Allen, former head at Stowmarket High School (Image: Archant)

“At break times and lunchtimes, they were talking and conversing more. That’s where the benefit is.”

He added that the guidance empowers teachers to enforce discipline: “There are issues around parents feeling that their child has a right to have their phone on them at all times, and regardless of the disruption it causes that a teacher cannot take it.

“It is about backing schools, and saying we have a right to search, which is helpful. It puts the power back in the hands of schools, headteachers, and their staff.

“The spirit is in the right direction. It is saying to families that schools have a right to have behaviour and discipline policies and have a right to use them appropriately.

“In reality, most schools have already gone down this route anyway.

“At Stowmarket, we operated as an ‘on site, out of sight’ policy. There was a recognition that students had them, but if they were seen on a student at any time of day, even break time and lunch time, they were confiscated.

“All schools recognise that they have become part of our culture and parents want children to have them, particularly for safety, but as we know they have created their own challenges and that is reflective across society.”

Another former Suffolk headteacher said the guidance was a “non-policy for a non-problem”, as most schools already ban mobile phones.

East Anglian Daily Times: Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College LeadersGeoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (Image: Archant)

Geoff Barton, former head of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, said he was more concerned with children being able to access inappropriate content online.

Mr Barton, who is now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We have lost count of the number of times that ministers have now announced a crackdown on mobile phones in schools. It is a non-policy for a non-problem.

“Most schools already forbid the use of mobile phones during the school day or allow their use only in limited and stipulated circumstances.

“The amount of time that some children spend on mobile phones is concerning because it can amount to addictive behaviour and is often accompanied by access to completely inappropriate and damaging material.

“However, this compulsive use of these devices is not something that is happening in schools, where robust polices are already in place, but while children are out of school.

“The government would be far better off putting its energies into bringing to heel the online platforms via which children are able to access disturbing and extreme content.

“It might also be a good idea to concentrate on the actual problems in the education system such as the chronic lack of sufficient funding and a staffing crisis which is making it increasingly difficult to provide a full curriculum and maintain standards.”