Decisions on the use of smart phones and other such devices in schools are taken at local level by the Board of Management of a school, who under the provisions of the Education Act, 1998 have responsibility for the direct governance of a school.
My Department recognises the requirement to safeguard children from the negative impact of using digital devices but consider that it is also very important to recognise the value of digital technology to enhance teaching and learning for all students. In that context, schools are best placed to identify and put in place appropriate policies in the context of their own particular situation, through consultation with their local school community.
Circular 0038/2018, which issued to all schools, early last year, requires schools to consult with teachers, student and parents in the development of policy around the use of smart phones and personal devices in school. This consultation requirement will be underpinned in law once the Parents and Students Charter is enacted. This bottom-up approach will ensure all parents, teachers and school communities are satisfied with the smart phone policy in place in their school. It will also mean that parents will be able to adopt a complementary approach at home to that which is in place in their child's school, if they wish to do so. The intention is to promote a shared approach regarding the appropriate and beneficial use of digital technologies.
Parents are the primary educators of their children, and parents will prioritise their child’s best interests and well-being. In that context, the input of parents to developing school policies as articulated in the draft Education (Parent & Student Charter) Bill 2018, which notes and mandates that role, is a priority of this Department.
My Department has put in place a range of supports for schools, teachers, pupils and parents to ensure development of appropriate policies and to raise awareness around the appropriate use of digital technology including the publication of the circular referred to requiring consultation on the issue of the use of digital devices in schools.
Under the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 all schools are required to have in place a code of behaviour. In accordance with the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 and the guidelines issued by the NEWB, all schools are required to have an anti-bullying policy within the framework of their overall code of behaviour, to include cyber-bullying.
Access to, ownership and usage of digital devices, and the online safety of children is a matter relevant to many Government Departments, as well as parents and wider society.
The Government’s Online Safety Hub, a single online access point www.gov.ie/besafeonline provides links to a wide range of online safety with specific resources and information for parents, teachers, children and young people from the six key Government Departments responsible for the implementation of the Government's Action Plan on Online Safety.