Dear parents, students and teachers,
On October 7, the Minister for Education released a new Students Using Mobile Phones Policy under section 5.2.1(2)(b) of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006, for implementation in all Victorian government schools. Under this Ministerial Order, all schools are required to adopt a local school policy that implements this statewide policy in time for the start of the new school year. While the Department recommended that School Council be consulted and the views of the school community taken into consideration in the implementation of the local school policy, the implementation of the policy itself was compulsory with only small areas of ‘localisation’ allowed. In addition, the policy was only communicated to schools a few weeks ago, allowing very little time for consultation.
Nevertheless, School Council and the school Leadership Team took the view that, while the details of the policy were not open for review, a consultation would be a useful way to understand the impact and implications of the new policy and provide an opportunity for the school to listen to the views, concerns and suggestions of the school community. In that sense, the consultation was highly successful. We had nearly 300 responses to our survey in addition to those who attended the meeting on November 12. Thank you to everyone who provided feedback. Students, parents and teachers expressed their views on the policy and many made useful and constructive suggestions on implementation.
Andrea Thomson and I have prepared a full report on the community consultation which is available in Compass in the folder for the November 2019 School Council meeting. I can summarise the feedback as follows:
- There was a stark divide in opinion about the policy.
- The majority of parents and teachers were very supportive of the policy.
- The majority of students were very negative about the policy.
- Some students (and some parents) were clearly angry about the policy, the way it was introduced and the implications of its implementation.
- Those who were supportive of the policy were primarily supportive of the intention to reduce screen time, reduce dependence on phones, reduce distraction and increase face to face communication, physical activity and wellbeing.
- Those who were concerned about the policy were primarily concerned about the way the policy has been announced and mandated, perceptions of unnecessary intrusion and overreach, loss of access to important phone functions like music for studying, navigation and communication when moving between campuses and on excursions, cameras and learning tools, loss of communication with family and friends during school hours, the need to supplement internet quality at school with phone hot-spotting.
While the implementation of the policy is compulsory in all Victorian government schools, the manner in which we implement it is our responsibility and should reflect the values and approaches that characterise our school community. The stark divide in community attitudes on this policy provide us with the opportunity to demonstrate our Fitzroy High School values: Trust, Engage and Respect. For example, our values help us understand that we should not dismiss the concerns of some students,teachers and parents, even if others disagree with them. Our values also help us understand that solutions to problems are best found by engaging, communicating, listening and learning. And, while rules are required in school in a variety of contexts for reasons of law, by direction of the Department or to define community standards, in implementing and enforcing those rules, we come from a place of trust and engagement rather than compliance and enforcement.
There were many positive and constructive suggestions in the feedback. Some people made suggestions for how the policy could be modified, for example, by allowing students to use phones at lunchtime and recess. Another suggestion was that senior students should be allowed phones. Unfortunately, these are not options allowed by the Department, and so cannot be considered. Many people made suggestions about the importance of effective communication and clear and simple rules and consequences. Other suggestions considered ways that the goals of the policy might be more broadly supported, for example, by the school providing more opportunities for sport and physical activity at lunch and recess. There were also useful suggestions about monitoring the impact and implementation of the policy and taking opportunities to reflect and improve. Finally, there were suggestions about ameliorating some of the negative impacts of the policy, for example, by improving internet quality so that students don’t need to hotspot, providing ways for students to listen to music through the school network and ensuring parents understand how students can be contacted through the office during school hours for health and emergency reasons.
After reviewing all the feedback, Andrea and I have made four recommendations to Leadership in respect of the policy:
- The policy should be implemented as part of a respectful, constructive and inclusive change process that acknowledges the significant concerns of many students and some parents and teachers about how the phone ban will impact their day to day lives, study habits and communication. Through this respectful, constructive and inclusive change process, the school can co-design with students, parents and teachers ways to address and mitigate the perceived negative impacts of the phone ban and ensure it is implemented with a minimal impact on students, staff and parents.
- The school needs to ensure that new expectations, behaviours and processes are clearly communicated and well understood across the school community.
- The school should strive to ensure that the expected behaviours of students, parents and teachers are clear, simple, consistent and easy to understand.
- The school will need to identify how the policy will integrate and interact with other policies and practices at Fitzroy High School and Collingwood College.
It was recommended that the School Council adopt the policy in a minimal fashion using the basic policy document provided by the Department. That policy document was considered and formally endorsed at the November School Council meeting. The policy can be summarised as follows:
- Students who bring phones to school must keep them switched off and locked in their lockers at all times.
- Students are not allowed to use phones at all on school grounds during school hours. That includes breaks, lunchtime and recess.
- Students can use phones while travelling to and from school and while travelling between school campuses (e.g. between Fitzroy and Collingwood College).
- There are some exceptions allowed but these must be part of formally documented plans relating to learning, health or risk.
Having formally adopted the policy, we now have a lot of details to sort out over the next few weeks and months in preparation for next year when the policy comes into effect. We hope that our recommendations for implementation will help ensure a positive and constructive approach across the school community.
I thank you all again for your input into this process.
President, School Council