The education secretary said he wanted to make the school day “mobile-free” and to ensure pupils can benefit from “calm classrooms”.
But one leading union said Mr Williamson seemed to be “obsessed” with the topic of mobile phones in schools.
A ban on their use in schools is being considered as part of a six-week consultation launched on Tuesday, which is seeking the views of teachers, parents and other staff on how to manage good behaviour.
The call for evidence comes ahead of planned updates to government guidance later this year on behaviour, discipline, suspensions and permanent exclusions.
The Department for Education (DfE) has already announced details of its £10m “behaviour hub” programme.
Headteachers and behaviour specialists from 22 “lead schools” and two academy chains with strong reputations for behaviour are mentoring and supporting schools struggling with poor discipline as part of the scheme.
The chosen schools are advising on a variety of issues – ranging from setting clear expectations to eliminate low-level disruption in classrooms, to more systematic approaches to maintaining order across the school, including forbidding the use of mobile phones and maintaining quiet corridors.
As part of the consultation, respondents will be asked how schools’ behaviour policies and approaches have changed amid the pandemic and what successful practices they intend to keep up.
“No parent wants to send their child to a school where poor behaviour is rife. Every school should be a safe place that allows young people to thrive and teachers to excel,” Mr Williamson said.
“Mobile phones are not just distracting, but when misused or overused, they can have a damaging effect on a pupil’s mental health and wellbeing. I want to put an end to this, making the school day mobile-free.
“In order for us to help pupils overcome the challenges from the pandemic and level up opportunity for all young people, we need to ensure they can benefit from calm classrooms which support them to thrive.”
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) accused Mr Williamson of “playing to backbenchers” with his plans.
“The education secretary appears to be obsessed with the subject of mobile phones in schools. In reality, every school will already have a robust policy on the use of mobile phones; it isn’t some sort of digital free-for-all,” the union’s general secretary said.
“Approaches will vary between settings and contexts, but this is an operational decision for schools, not something that can be micromanaged from Westminster.”
He added: “Frankly, school and college leaders would prefer the education secretary to be delivering an ambitious post-pandemic recovery plan and setting out how he intends to minimise educational disruption next term, rather than playing to backbenchers on the subject of behaviour.”
Meanwhile Sarah Hannafin, senior policy advisor for school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Mobile phone bans work for some schools but there isn’t one policy that will work for all schools.
“Outright banning mobile phones can cause more problems than it solves, driving phone use ‘underground’ and making problems less visible and obvious for schools to tackle.”
Earlier this year, Mr Williamson said he would support schools who decide to ban the use of mobile phones, saying the devices distract from “exercise and good old-fashioned play” and contribute to cyber-bullying.
The education secretary said in April technology had been “invaluable” for pupils during lockdowns, but that “it’s now time to put the screens away”.
Additional reporting by Press Association
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