Disadvantaged children risk falling behind because they can’t access online learning

Campaigners, headteachers and councillors criticise the Government’s ‘undeliverable’ to distribute over a million laptops and tablets to disadvantaged children before the end of the academic year.

The Department for Education (DfE) pledged to provide more laptops and tablets to schools to help disadvantaged children access remote education during coronavirus (COVID-19), but sector leaders say ‘only a fraction’ of those promised have been delivered.

The DfE announced in January 2021 that it will increase the help available through its ‘get help with technology’ programme including providing hundreds of thousands more laptops and tablets – which they say will reach a total of more than 1 million by the end of the academic year.

However, sector leaders have criticised the speed of the roll-out. Speaking to The Independent, Michael Tidd, headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex, said: “Disadvantaged children who are most likely to have lost out on learning opportunities through the previous lockdowns will once again find themselves reliant on whatever resource and support their schools can muster.

“We've been talking about a second wave since last April, but the DfE doesn't seem to have kept up."

The DfE says the number of devices available to order through the ‘get help with technology’ service is calculated based on the number of pupils, the estimated number of devices in the school, and free school meals data.

Types of disadvantaged children include those with no digital devices in their household, those whose only available device is a smartphone, or those with a single device in their household that’s being shared with more than one other family member.

Linda Heiden, founder and chair of Lambeth TechAid, a voluntary group which distributes donated used devices to children who need them, said: “This needs to be a priority now. There’s going to be an increasing gap – a gulf – between children who have access and those who don’t, in terms of educational achievement and all the development that comes with that."

Ms. Heiden added: “It’s a joke. They’ve only delivered a fraction of what they promised to schools, and what they promised to schools was for a tiny cohort of children in one or two year groups.”

The DfE says it will provide more information to the schools, colleges, trusts and local authorities able to order devices in the spring term 2021.

To find out more about how and when to order laptops and tablets, visit https://get-help-with-tech.education.gov.uk/devices/how-to-order

To find out more about device allocations or to query them, visit https://get-help-with-tech.education.gov.uk/devices/device-allocations

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