Headteachers in England have expressed anger after learning the number of laptops they will receive next term has been reduced following the introduction of a new allocation process.
The Department for Education says it has purchased more than 96,000 additional devices and its new system is designed to “more accurately align orders with the number of students schools typically have self-isolating, ensuring as many children as possible benefit from receiving a device this term”.
The number of laptops and devices schools received was previously calculated based on how many disadvantaged pupils there were in years 3 to 11.
The change to the allocation system was announced less than two days after a legal duty came into effect requiring state schools to provide remote education for pupils unable to attend because of Covid-19.
The DfE expects schools to be able to immediately offer access to remote education where a small number of pupils must self-isolate or if there is a local lockdown.
Chris Dyson, the headteacher at Parklands primary school in Leeds, an area placed under stricter coronavirus measures last month, said the DfE has sent him an email about the change late on the Friday before half-term.
“I log in to check, expecting my allocation to increase ([as] one of the UK’s most deprived primary schools) and see it has been slashed from 61 to 13,” he wrote in a draft email to the DfE shared on Twitter. “You disgust me with the contempt you show disadvantaged schools. I am embarrassed to have you leading us.”
Jack Sloan, a headteacher at north London’s Hanover school, said he found out at 5.50pm on Friday that his laptop allocation would be cut from 39 to eight.
The allocation for Millfield high school in Blackpool has dropped from 81 to 16, according to its headteacher, Nicola Reagan. “That’s thousands of pounds from our school budget to help our children. So now schools are penalised by the DfE for not having a positive [Covid-19] case,” she said.
Under the new rules, schools that are fully closed for a sustained period will get support from regional commissioners to ensure they get enough devices to meet the needs of all disadvantaged pupils in year 3 to 11 who do not have a laptop.
Schools that are not fully closed, but believe they have a strong need for additional devices, can contact the DfE to request more.
Michael Tidd, the headteacher of East Preston junior school in Sussex, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the DfE’s change seemed disingenuous.
“Like many schools, we’ve all been planning, we’ve had a legal requirement put on us since Thursday to plan for remote learning,” he said. “The day after all those plans had to be finalised then we get told the number of laptops we were expecting has been reduced massively.
“The legal requirement is that we must provide immediate access to remote learning. We have to wait now until we’re in a severe lockdown situation … we have to wait until we have 15 different cases in our schools before we can even apply for this very small number of laptops. And then we have to wait for them to be delivered, and there seems to be problems with that where schools are accessing them.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “The scale and speed at which the department has delivered laptops and tablets to children who need them over the past six months is unprecedented, with deliveries now set to total over half a million by Christmas.
“As we move into half-term, and in the context of significant global demand, we’re updating our allocation process to more accurately align orders with the number of students schools typically have self-isolating, ensuring as many children as possible benefit from receiving a device this term.
“We have already purchased an additional 96,000 devices and continue to work closely with our suppliers to ensure delivery despite the increased global demand.”