What’s happening with mobile phones in schools in 2020?

Here's what the new 2020 policy on the use of digital devices will mean for you and your child.

Mobile phone on table

Digital technology and online services have become an intrinsic part of our day-to-day lives. Mobile phones are everywhere, including in our schools. All of these tools can be a great boon for learning and play, but they also come with risks.

One of the biggest questions we face in education today is: how can we balance the importance of digital technology with the responsibility we have to provide learning environments that support the safety and wellbeing of our children and foster great educational outcomes?

The Department’s Student Use of Digital Devices and Online Services policy aims to do just that – to maximise the potential of digital technology, while minimising the risks of harm, so we can equip our students with the skills they need to be safe and responsible users of digital technology, and learn and flourish in their current and future lives.

What’s happening?

A new policy on the use of digital devices will be introduced in NSW public schools from the start of Term 1, 2020.

The policy applies to smartphones, smartwatches, iPads, laptops and any other device that connects to the internet and applications.

What does it mean?

In primary schools, students will not be allowed to use digital technology during class, recess and lunch unless for an educational purpose or where a student needs it for another reason, such as an adjustment for disability.

In secondary schools, principals will have the flexibility to opt into any restriction on the use of devices or use an approach that best suits the learning and wellbeing needs of their school community. Schools will be expected to update their existing procedures or develop new ones in consultation with their community.

Examples of arrangements for the management of devices at school may include students keeping their devices off and away in their school bag, devices being kept in students’ lockers, devices collected by the class teacher or devices stored at the school office.

When is this happening?

In primary schools, from the start of Term 1, 2020. The policy was considered by the NSW Minister for Education and Early Learning in December 2019 and will be implemented in all NSW public schools in Term 1, 2020.

In secondary schools, some schools have already implemented their policy. Others will be consulting with communities and determining their approach during the school year.

Every school will communicate with their students and the local community about the arrangements they are putting in place.

Visit your school’s website or contact your school principal to find out what’s happening at your school.

Why is this happening? Isn’t digital technology important?

Yes, but it also presents risks. We need to balance the importance of digital technology for learning with the responsibility of schools to maintain safe and positive learning environments for every student.

At school – and at home – we want children and young people to be supported to develop the technological, social and emotional skills they need to make the most of digital technology while minimising the potential harm.

Digital technology and online services have become a big part of everyday life, shaping the way children and young people learn, interact, work and play. Digital technology can empower authentic, engaged learning, and help equip students with the skills they need to flourish in today’s world.

But if we don’t manage it properly, there are risks it can pose to students’ safety, wellbeing and learning. Potential harms including cyberbullying, image-based abuse, online stalking or other inappropriate peer-to-peer contact.

The aim of the new policy is to give us the opportunity to work together – as parents, as carers, as educators – to support our children and young people to learn to be safe, responsible and respectful users of digital devices and online services.

What’s the evidence for this?

The new policy has been developed in response to the recommendations of a six-month independent review led by renowned child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg. The review considered input from almost 14,000 survey responses and 80 written submissions, as well as conducting wide-ranging consultation with teachers, parents and students through focus groups and interviews.

It incorporated:

  • input from around 2,000 parents, 9,000 students and 3,000 educators, as well as experts in child development, cyberbullying, mental health and technology, academics, peak groups and key stakeholders including the NSW Secondary Principals Council, the NSW Primary Principals Association and the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations and
  • a review of:
    • existing research on the impact of mobile digital devices in schools
    • current school practices in more than 80 NSW schools
    • the findings of other enquiries and reviews; and practices in other states and territories.


Q. What if my child needs to make a call during the school day?

A. Schools have procedures in place should your child need to contact you during the school day. Students should visit the school office or talk with their class teacher or year adviser if they need to make a phone call during school hours. Schools are best placed to assess the situation and allow students to use the school phone if required.

Q. What if I need to contact my child during the school day?

A. The best way is to call the school. The school will know exactly where your child is and be able to find them for you as quickly as possible.

Q. What do I need to do as a parent or carer?

A. Parents and carers can make a big difference by partnering with us so we can all help make the new policy work together. Remember, it’s all about supporting our children and young people to be safe, responsible and respectful users of digital devices and online services. Children and young people follow the lead of adults, so you can help by modelling the behaviour we want to see.

The most important practical things you can do to help are:

  1. Find out what your school’s approach is going to be and be supportive of it.
  2. Check what the school specifications are for any ‘bring your own device’ program and make sure any digital device you provide your child meets those specifications. It’s also really helpful if parents and carers can complete any related paperwork at the same time.
  3. At home, monitor your child’s use of digital devices and online services, such as the use of online services with age and content restrictions.
  4. What messages is your device use sending to your children? Modelling healthy digital habits as adults has become more and more challenging as devices become intertwined with nearly every aspect of our lives. Be mindful of your use of digital devices while around your children as children are likely to copy your behaviours. Teach your children to use technology in a healthy way and pick up the skills and habits that will make them successful digital citizens.

Learn more

Read about the Review into the non-educational use of mobile devices in NSW schools. This page also answers a number of parents’ and carers’ FAQs on the new policy.

Check out the department’s new Digital Citizenship website which includes a special section for parents with useful articles and advice.

Visit the Anti-bullying website which includes a section on online safety.

Read more about our overarching commitment to enable our students to be healthy, happy, engaged and successful under our Wellbeing Framework.

Find out about the expectations we set in our School Community Charter which outlines how school staff, parents, carers and the community can work together to foster positive and supportive learning environments for our students.

More back-to-school resources

Find the latest articles, checklists, and up-to-date information to help you get ready for school on our 2020 back-to-school hub.

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