Catholic students and teachers will get a much-needed reprieve from distracting digital devices, with a ban on mobile phones during school hours coming into effect across Sydney Catholic Schools this week.
A long-awaited policy about the use of digital devices was released this week following 12 months of research and consultation with SCS leaders from all 147 primary and secondary schools.
The new policy requires all mobile phones be switched off, out of sight and securely stored in lockers, school bags or using a school storage solution between 9am and 3pm, bringing SCS in line with public schools across the country.
All states and territories except for the ACT have now introduced phone bans in government schools, with NSW introducing it in term four this year.
The SCS policy has been released at the same time as the UN has called for a global ban on phones in schools, citing clear evidence that excessive mobile phone use is linked to reduced educational performance a negative effect on children’s emotional stability.
While most SCS already have their own rules and regulations around mobile phone use, this is the first time a uniform policy has been introduced across the network to help communities navigate and manage digital distractions.
The ban will also apply during recess and lunch times, as well as at school supervised events including excursions, camps, and retreats.
Students will however be allowed to carry their phones while travelling to and from school and in circumstances where a school deems it serves a specific educational or medical purpose.
Non-compliance with the rules by students will be managed by each individual school, with some using demerit systems or detentions.
SCS Executive Director Tony Farley said the new phone policy was devised in conjunction with school leaders to create an approach to digital devices that puts high quality learning first.
He said it sets the foundations for schools to have conversations about expectations at school with both students and parents and will be up to each individual school to implement and enforce.
“We’ve got so much happening in our schools and the last thing our students need is to be checking a phone every few minutes,” he said.
“You can’t deeply engage with another human being while constantly checking your phone and that same principle applies to education.
“Whether it’s learning an instrument, playing sport, working out a maths problem or writing an essay, the key to success is to be present and concentrate and that’s why we’ve launched this policy.
“Chalk and blackboards were technologies of their time just as digital devices and audio-visual technologies are today.
“Nothing can replace great teachers and motivated students engaging deeply with the subject matter and doing the hard work of understanding the structure and patterns of a subject with as few distractions as possible—that necessarily means freeing our students from their phones in school hours.
“Our schools are places where students can switch off their phones and switch on their minds.
“While there is definitely a place for digital technologies in our schools, it’s our teachers who will decide what is used and experience tells us that getting away from mobile phones and other digital devices during school hours is great for student learning and wellbeing.”
Dany Elachi, a Sydney parent who founded the Heads Up Alliance to call for children’s exposure to smartphones and social media be reduced, said the announcement of a phone ban is testament to SCS openness to parental perspectives.
He said it demonstrates that collaboration with parents, valuing excellence in education and prioritising student wellbeing are not just buzzwords but hallmarks of a Catholic education in Sydney.
“There’s a whole raft of concerns parents are dealing with for the first time in history,” he said.
“The idea kids might have a break from all this for six measly hours in a 24-hour day so they can learn with less distraction and build face-to-face relationships is such a no-brainer.
“When we first wrote to SSC a year ago to request a system-wide smartphone ban, we weren’t quite sure how our approach would be received.
“To their credit, they listened attentively to our concerns and after a series of respectful meetings and conversations, it wasn’t long before they saw merit in what we were proposing.
“We encourage other Catholic systems around the country to follow SCS lead, particularly as all public schools in Australia now have phone ban policies in place.”
Principals are currently rolling out the new phone policy with their school communities and parent groups and already reporting positive feedback.