Principal says National's cell phone ban policy a waste of money, calls for investment in teachers, literacy, vaping

The National Party's school cell phone ban policy has come under fire, with a principal saying it's a waste of money and investment is desperately needed in other areas. 

National Party leader Christopher Luxon announced the policy on Wednesday morning saying the ban will help lift educational achievement, with many schools overseas seeing positive results from the initiative. 

It comes as our OECD rankings in maths, science and reading are falling with Luxon claiming it threatens New Zealand's future prosperity. 

But Papatoetoe High School principal Vaughan Couillault told AM on Wednesday cellphones are needed in some subjects for students to do work. 

He told AM co-host Ryan Bridge centralised control from Government has proven not to work over recent years. 

"On the surface of it, it sounds like a way to address an issue the world is facing in terms of screen time and distraction but when you dig down into the stuff at the bottom of the announcement, you see it's no different to what's actually already happening in schools and classrooms anyway," he said. 

"We don't necessarily need centralised control and governance over this because schools are already enacting their own policies and putting their own systems and procedures in place to do pretty much exactly what's already on the bottom of that page."

In the announcement, Luxon said many schools and parents are concerned about the use of devices but Couillault disagreed saying it's not a big conversation with teachers. 

He told AM if the policy comes to fruition it would be a waste of money, with investment needed in other areas. 

"To be perfectly honest, if we were going to invest money in legislation and implementing legislation, I think we should invest that money in the scourge that is vaping," he said. 

"It’s workforce, it’s literacy and it’s vaping - that is the topic of conversation in pretty much every high school."

Couillault said parents also need to think about if they're happy with the policy as it will become much harder to get in contact with their kids.

"Parents have an expectation the school will respond to or the students will respond immediately to their requests, so we've got to have a long, hard think about whether we're okay with that or whether we want to go to a place where you have to ring the school office," he said. 

"It might be 90 minutes before you know when you can pick your child up because you think about big schools, for example, 2000-3000 students, they haven't got 15 people in a call centre in the office that can manage that sort of flow of something."

Questions have also been raised about how the ban would work logistically. 

If elected, National said the ban would apply to all schools - primary, intermediate and secondary - and the presumption is cell phones are off and away all day, including during breaks between classes. However, schools can decide how to practically enforce the ban. 

Luxon suggested schools could get students to hand in their phones before school but Couillault questioned how this would work at big schools with around 3000 students.  

"So 3000 cell phones, because pretty much every student has a cell phone of some sort or another at the moment. The logistics of bringing in 3000 devices and then safely storing them and then issuing them back to the right person would take quite some time," he said. 

Bridge joked to make sure each student got their phone back, the school could ring each cell phone. 

Couillault said it could take up to 3000 minutes to give back all the phones. 

"There'll be no maths or science being done," Bridge joked.

"The logistics of it would eat into the class time you're trying to save by not having the cell phone in the classroom," Couillault said. 

Large parts of Australia have implemented a similar policy of banning phones during class time. But Couillault said it should be up to each individual school to implement its own policy. 

"What we've learnt over the last few years, particularly as we've managed what I call our emergency years through COVID-19 and through cyclones, is centralised control and decision making isn't as effective as schools and regions making decisions that are right for them," he said.  

"So those places where that's how they want to roll and that's what the community will buy into, great, those things work well. 

"So allow schools to make decisions that are right for them, right for the community because in my community, cell phones are not the scourge. There's not a whole lot of students wandering around banging into lampposts because they're looking at their screens."

Watch the full interview with Vaughan Couillault in the video above.