education

Pupils without laptops can still go to school during lockdown


As many as 1.8million pupils in the UK don’t have access to a laptop at home (Picture: Getty Images)

Pupils in England with no access to laptops can still come to school for classes during lockdown, the Department for Education has confirmed.

These children are classed as ‘vulnerable’ and are therefore exempt from Downing Street’s order to stay at home while teachers deliver online lessons until at least mid-February.

But with as many as 1.8million pupils without a working laptop at home, questions have been raised over whether schools have the resources to teach them all face-to-face, when they’ve been told to restrict teaching as part of the third national lockdown.

The suggestion to class these pupils as vulnerable was first made by children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield. She called for children without adequate technology to be offered priority places in schools and said tech companies should provide free data allowance to families in need.

A few hours later, a DfE spokesperson said pupils without access to a device or the internet were classed as vulnerable and could continue to attend school.

The department claimed the guidance had been in place since September, but people in the commissioner’s office asked why this update hadn’t been publicised before, the Guardian reports.

Ms Longfield told the BBC: ‘There is no doubt that remote learning and a large amount of time out of school has a very negative impact on children.

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‘Remote learning now needs to be a high priority for the government and we need a plan around that to ensure there is consistency in what schools are able to offer but also that tech is issued.

‘We know that it hasn’t gone well in every area across the country, we know that some… will still be working on a mobile phone, sometimes it will be a crap mobile phone.

‘There is also the issue of the cost of data, and I think this is something that tech companies and broadband companies really need to step up to now.’

Between 1.1million and 1.8million children (about 9%) do not have access to a computer or tablet at home, making up 9%, according to figures from Ofcom.

Ordering schools to shut has put pressure on the Government to close the country’s digital divide (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

More than 880,000 can only access the internet using mobile phone data, often on more expensive pay-as-you-go tariffs, and up to 559,000 have no online access at all.

Three UK said yesterday that it would provide unlimited data upgrades to disadvantaged children until the end of the school year in July, while other providers are under pressure to follow suit.

BT, EE, Sky Mobile, Smarty, Tesco Mobile, Three and Virgin Mobile have all signed up to a DfE scheme, agreeing to provide 20GB of free data per month to disadvantaged families. Vodafone has given out 330,000 SIM cards to schools and may also join the scheme.

In the Commons today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that 50,000 laptops were provided to school on Monday, on top of the 560,000 devices given to students last year.

He promised a further 100,000 during the first week of term, but Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer said with up to 1.8million children without a home computer ‘there’s real urgency needed now’.

But St Ambrose Barlow Roman Catholic high school, Salford, Greater Manchester, said it had received only 75 laptops for its 1,000 pupils, where at least 40% don’t have their own laptop or device.

Staff had to set aside around 40 laptops to give to year 11 pupils yesterday.


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Meanwhile headteachers have said they have been unable to order the promised laptops off the Gov.uk website.

When teachers tried to access the service, they were shown a pop-up message saying it was not possible and that they should wait to be contacted.

Headteacher of East Preston Junior School in West Sussex, Michael Tidd, told Sky News: ‘We have all known since October, when a statutory duty was placed on schools to provide remote learning, that we needed to have our plans ready, but schools cannot deliver these plans if the DfE cannot provide them with the laptops they need to begin with.

‘The DfE goes on television promising all sorts and telling people this is going to happen – but it is left for the schools and the parents to pick up the pieces when it doesn’t.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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