School and college leaders have condemned the government’s plan to ban mobile phones from classrooms as outdated and out of touch, arguing that schools should be allowed to decide on appropriate rules.

Responding to a Department for Education (DfE) consultation on student behaviour, the Association of School and College Leaders said education leaders already had student mobile phone use under control and warned that some students, such as those caring for a relative, may be disadvantaged by a strict approach.

Julie McCulloch, the director of policy at ASCL, said: “School and college leaders are slightly mystified about the education secretary’s fixation with banning mobile phones in classrooms because they have been dealing with the practicalities of this issue for many years now.”

She added: “Our view remains that schools and colleges already have strong tried-and-tested policies and they are best placed to make their own decisions.”

McCulloch said schools typically asked students to keep their phones in their bags during the academic day, while some had policies allowing pupils to use their phones to help with learning and sourcing information. Having access to phones also enabled secondary schools to teach about responsible phone use and online harms, she said.

She added that for some learners, such as children in the care system, mobile phones could be an “essential safety measure”, while young carers might need them to “provide essential support to parents”.

In its consultation response, ASCL also reported that some of the emergency measures deployed during the pandemic had helped with antisocial behaviour, with some schools and colleges planning to keep them.

These included staggering the end of the school day, keeping pupils in peer group bubbles, having more time outdoors and appointing older pupils as mentors to support younger ones.

The response also endorsed the use of quiet spaces within schools and colleges for pupils exhibiting difficult behaviour, but criticised the DfE’s use of the term “removal room” as “unhelpful and stigmatising” and warned that their use could be particularly inappropriate for children with special educational needs and disabilities (Send).

The DfE has said its consultation seeks views from the sector on how schools ban mobile phones among other things and will use the feedback to produce guidance later in the year.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Mobile phones can be distracting if used in the classroom, but when misused or overused, they can have a damaging effect on a pupil’s mental health and wellbeing.

“Looking at how schools and colleges are making the day mobile-free is just one part of our behaviour call for evidence, which asked teachers and school leaders about a range of ways to help students focus on their education and create calmer schools – which is especially important due to the impact of the pandemic.”