School phone ban 'the right thing to do'

Victorian public school students will be banned from using their phones from next year in an effort to tackle cyberbullying and distraction in the classroom.

From term one 2020, students from prep to year 12 will have to switch off their phones and store them in lockers until the final bell, Education Minister James Merlino has announced.

Exceptions will only be granted to students who use their phones to monitor health conditions, or where teachers instruct students to bring their phone for a particular classroom activity.

In the case of an emergency, parents or guardians can reach their child by calling the school.

A similar policy was first proposed by the Liberal opposition in February 2018, before the November state election at which time the Andrews government said bans were the decision of individual schools.

"I guess policy imitation is the greatest form of flattery," former Liberal leader Matthew Guy tweeted on Tuesday night.

Mr Merlino said the government was entitled to change its mind.

"It's not that I didn't like the idea, it's about how do you best deliver this," he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

"When there's an idea that needs examination, we shouldn't just say no forever. If it deserves examination, you should talk to the experts, talk to the students, parents and teachers."

Mr Merlino said the government modelled its ban on that of McKinnon Secondary College, a high-performing state school in Melbourne's southeast, which found students became more focused during class and louder in the schoolyard.

"Students are more engaged in the classroom and in the schoolyard, they're talking to each other rather than looking at their phones," Mr Merlino said.

He said the move would also help "stop cyberbullying at the gate", citing recent research from Headspace, the non-profit organisation for youth mental health, which found more than half of all young people have experienced cyberbullying.

"I know this won't be universally popular, but I've come to the conclusion that it's the right thing to do," Mr Merlino said.

The state opposition called the government's change of mind an "embarrassing backflip".

"Daniel Andrews has now apparently seen the light and will adopt the Liberal Nationals' policy," Opposition Education spokeswoman Cindy McLeish said.

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