Teachers say many children still do not have the means to learn remotely, as schools close again and online learning resumes.
Pupils across the country may only have access to their work through a phone or shared device. MPs and charities have written to the prime minister asking that devices be provided for students without remote access.
This comes after the Department of Education (DfE) cut device provision to schools by approximately 80% in October.
Ian Addison, KS1 leader and school ICT leader, told The Canary his school in Hampshire has only been provided with four laptops between 500 pupils. After the prime minister announced a third lockdown yesterday, he said:
For many, the only access that they have is through a parent’s mobile phone. We didn’t do remote learning last time and are trying to start it from tomorrow but so many don’t have devices it will be a massive challenge.
we would need 100 devices for it to have a decent impact on the children and their learning. It is frustrating that the government are saying so many laptops are being provided, where are they going? So many children are going to be at home for another 6 weeks with no access to learning and I wish more could be done to help them.
Addison said that around 20% of students in his class alone did not have their own device for remote learning. He added that 65% of their pupils receive the pupil premium.
The pupil premium is funding the government gives to schools every year to help disadvantaged students. A student can be eligible for the pupil premium if they have received free school meals within the last six years.
Similarly, Dave Shaw, headteacher at Spire Junior School in Chesterfield, told The Canary they had only received 10 of the 49 laptops they had been allocated. Shaw also had trouble accessing the portal to order more laptops. He said his pupils are “struggling”, with some having to share devices in their households and others asking for paper copies of work. He said this:
doesn’t give them the quality teaching face-to-face in terms of online and visually that they deserve.
It still won’t be enough. What I think is that the siblings will share, so they still won’t get the full allocation of quality teaching but they will get something, because something is better than nothing at this difficult time.
Shaw said his school would need around 70 devices to give their pupils high-quality online learning. He also said internet connection has been a problem for some students – to rectify this, they have ordered free SIM cards provided by Vodafone.
The government laptop scheme
The Department for Education first promised laptops and tablets for schools during the previous academic year.
The scheme was extended in September, with devices available for:
• disadvantaged children in years 3 to 11 whose face-to-face education is
• disadvantaged children in any year group who have been advised to
shield because they (or someone they live with) are clinically extremely
• disadvantaged children in any year group attending a hospital school
• disadvantaged 14 to 16-year-olds enrolled for Key Stage 4 at sixth-form
colleges and whose face-to-face education is disrupted
As of 18 December, the DfE reported over 500,000 devices had been provided in total, alongside over 50,000 4G routers.
However, some teachers have tweeted that this is still not enough, with pupils still left offline:
Today approx 4,500 secondary school kids in #Sheffield are at home unable to join online classes because they have no laptop. The future unfairness of the digital divide is catastrophic. If you have an unused device you could donate, please help https://t.co/uO5QQ0PX0t
— Nancy Fielder (@NancyFielder) January 4, 2021
The digital divide
Disadvantaged children are less likely to have a digital device for learning online. Therefore, educators say they will be more affected by school closures and insufficient laptop provision. In the long term, this is likely to cause these children to fall behind:
I forgot to add that although we now have one year group where every child has a device 17% of that year group are using devices that other family members need to use during the day as well. The digital divide is significant.
— Vic Goddard (@vicgoddard) January 3, 2021
Several MPs, charities, and unions have written to Boris Johnson, urging him to ensure children wouldn’t go without access to online learning.
The letter stressed the importance of providing “children on the wrong side of the digital divide” with devices and a broadband connection that enabled them to learn online.
Schools left frustrated
The Canary asked the DfE for comment but it referred us to its statement on 20 December 2020. Then the DfE said:
The Government is also confirming today that, amidst unprecedented global demand, over 560,000 devices were delivered to schools and councils in 2020. The further purchase of more than 440,000 devices means that over one million will now be provided to help schools and colleges throughout the pandemic – making the programme one of the largest of its kind in the world.
The Government is now investing over £300 million to support remote education and social care, including providing devices and internet access to pupils who need it most.
It further stated that in January, schools would be able to order devices even if pupils hadn’t been sent home to self-isolate.
Shaw told The Canary:
I feel very frustrated. I feel for our families and I wish I could do more to help them. And apart from offering advice and the quality teaching that we do provide, we can’t do anything else about those laptops. Because we as a school don’t have any funds to support us in that way.
We’ve had announcement after announcement and disappointment after disappointment in terms of being told one thing and there’s more U-turns than anything else. I feel they’ve let our community down, I really do feel that.
And one more point… When Gavin mentioned they would supply another 50,000 laptops to schools?! Another? Were the first batch delivered to a distant planet, by Hermes??? ? And now, I’m done! ??
— ????? ? (@TeachingAHT) December 30, 2020