A further 300,000 laptops and tablets will be delivered to schools in England to help disadvantaged children learning from home due to the coronavirus crisis, the Government has announced.
The Department for Education (DfE) said the boost brings the total number of laptops and tablets being made available for pupils to 1.3 million, amid concerns that many lack a suitable device in order to study remotely.
Students in schools and colleges in England – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – have been told to learn at home until mid-February due to tighter restrictions.
Over 100,000 laptops and tablets were delivered last week alone, according to the department, which said that three-quarters of a million devices are expected to have been delivered by the end of this week.
As part of the Get Help with Technology Programme, the additional devices will support schools and colleges across the country and allocations have been made with the aim of prioritising those most in need.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) welcomed the announcement, but said it was “pretty poor that nearly a year after this crisis began we are only now inching up to the number of devices that are needed”.
General secretary Geoff Barton said: “The reality is that this extra provision is coming when we are already well into the new lockdown and after a heavily disrupted autumn term in which many children had to self-isolate in line with coronavirus protocols.
“The Government was slow off the mark to address the digital divide early in the crisis and is now trying to make up for lost time.”
According to estimates from Ofcom, between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children in the UK (9%) do not have home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I know just how difficult the past year has been for parents and teachers, now more so than ever.
“I want nothing more than for every child to be in the classroom with their friends and teachers, but with that not possible we are doing everything in our power to support schools with high-quality remote education.
“These additional devices, on top of the 100,000 delivered last week, add to the significant support we are making available to help schools deliver high-quality online learning, as we know they have been doing.”
The announcement came after a University of Sussex study found that families of lower socioeconomic status were more likely to report that their home environment made it harder for their children to complete schoolwork.
The survey, of 3,409 parents in the UK, suggests that secondary school pupils eligible for free school meals (39%) were more likely to report that a lack of technology – such as laptops and computers – made learning from home more difficult, compared to 19% of pupils who are not eligible for free school meals.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), claimed that the Government had “routinely let down” disadvantaged students.
“It is surely a no-brainer that schools should be compensated for having to plug the gaps, which are entirely due to governmental sloth,” he said.
“Every child must have access to the equipment they need to ensure they can learn safely from home. When will the Government take their responsibility towards these children seriously?”
Meanwhile, the Government published a remote education framework to support schools and colleges with delivering learning for pupils at home.
It comes after campaigners threatened legal action against the Government if it fails to step up its efforts to ensure all children can access remote education during the latest national lockdown.
The Good Law Project has accused ministers of “forcing” poorer children and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) pupils to attend school at the height of the pandemic due to a shortage of digital devices.
Government guidance says vulnerable children may include “pupils who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home” due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study.
Vulnerable children should be strongly encouraged to attend school during the lockdown, according to the guidance, but parents who choose to keep children out of class will not be penalised.