The Education Ministry is not planning a blanket ban on smartphones in all schools, officials have confirmed.
Instead, Education Minister Norma Foley is drawing up guidelines for primary schools and parents’ associations that want to introduce a voluntary “no smartphone code”.
It follows an initiative in Greystones, County Wicklow, where all eight primary schools and parent associations have introduced an opt-in policy allowing parents to collectively agree not to purchase smartphones for their children.
The department’s guidelines only target elementary schools, officials said. “The minister is working on proposals to support a similar model for schools and intends to present these to Cabinet shortly,” a spokesman added.
There were media reports this week that phones would be banned in classrooms under the new legislation. However, schools are already free to ban or restrict the use of smartphones in school, and many do so as part of their “acceptable use” policies.
There are very different practices in secondary schools. Some schools allow students to use their phones for quizzes or work, while others have strict policies that require students to hand over their phones upon arrival at school or leave them in safe locations .
Ms Foley said earlier this month that her plans would offer parents the opportunity to work with primary schools to develop phone purchasing policies for children.
“I believe in the power of the collective and it’s important that we get everyone on board here,” she said. “I have been very impressed with the initiatives we have seen across the country.”
The minister said her plans would focus on providing support, guidance and information to parents and schools, particularly on the issue of phone ownership in primary school.
“I realize – and I travel all over the country meeting with parents and school staff – that it is difficult when some children in primary school have phones and others do not. There can be a lot of pressure on parents to buy phones,” she said.
She said parents of children in the classroom can make decisions together about purchasing phones.
“It will be voluntary, but the focus will be on educational information… if people have the right information, that is the first step so that they have the right tools to make the right decision,” Ms Foley said . “Schools do a lot of work in this area, but they can only do so much. That’s why we need the cooperation of parents and guardians.”
The Greystones initiative is part of a wider project Community-led wellbeing initiative The trigger was concerns from school leaders, teachers and parents about the worrying levels of anxiety among students.
The “It takes a villageThe initiative, led by Rachel Harper, Principal of St Patrick’s National School, aims to build a community of services to help children, families and teachers who need help with anxiety issues.
“Childhood seems to be getting shorter and shorter and we feel that many children are not emotionally ready to use a smart device,” Ms Harper said.
“The aim is to work together to take the pressure off parents who may feel uncomfortable if their child is the only one in fifth or sixth grade who doesn’t have a smartphone.” If as many parents as possible sign up for this, they will all children will have a level playing field and it will become the new norm for children in the region.”
Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly – both residents of Greystones – have expressed their support for the initiative.