Schools’ digital divide: DfE falling short, says Blair

Register of children lacking access to data and devices also backed by 4 ex education secretaries and chair of education select committee
4th January 2021, 4:22pm
Catherine Lough

Share

Schools’ digital divide: DfE falling short, says Blair

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/schools-digital-divide-dfe-falling-short-says-blair
Coronavirus: Vaccinating Teachers Would Take Two Days, Says Tony Blair

Influential figures in education and politics, including former prime minister Tony Blair, have criticised the government's remote teaching support, saying it falls "far short" of where it needs to be to ensure pupils do not fall behind.

A letter from Siobhain McDonagh, the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, has been signed by Mr Blair and four former education secretaries: David Blunkett, Ed Balls, Estelle Morris and Alan Johnson.

Its call for the government to address the "digital divide" as schools remain closed for the start of term, is also backed by NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach and a cross party group of MPs including the Conservative chair of the Commons education select committee Robert Halfon and Daisy Cooper, Lib-Dem education spokesperson.    

I was proud to sign this letter organised by @Siobhain_Mc calling on Boris Johnson to ensure that every child away from school has the data & the devices to access their education from home.

This is urgent. Young people are losing out on their education, and they deserve better. pic.twitter.com/5znXYP2XNi

- Julie Elliott (@JulieElliottMP) January 4, 2021

News: Digital divide 'fail' given as reason to reopen schools

Exclusive: New school opening delay agreed by ministers

Covid: 'Pause' January school opening, says academies leader


The letter states that "at the time of writing, all secondary school pupils in England and more than one million primary school pupils will be reliant on remote learning to continue their education".

Citing the law change in October requiring teachers to provide remote education for pupils unable to attend school because of the pandemic, the letter says that "the lockdown exposed the digital divide across the UK, with approximately 9 per cent of children without access to a laptop, desktop or tablet".

"So, whilst we welcome the remote education support offered to schools by the government, the number of devices pledged falls far short of the number required," it says.

"Furthermore, a device is only effective for remote learning if the pupil can access the internet at home, with 880,000 children living in a household with only a mobile internet connection in addition to those children on the wrong side of the digital divide with no connection at all."

The letter says these children were likely to have been behind their peers academically before the pandemic and are now starting the new year facing more weeks of missed education.

And it says that while it welcomes the support from online classroom Oak Academy, this "remains inaccessible" for pupils lacking internet access and it is "fundamental that no child's education is dependent on their internet connection".

It calls on the government to ensure that every child has the required data and device to learn remotely and that this will require a register of which children lack technology and connectivity, as well as a clear plan for how they will receive this.

The letter has been signed by Mr Blair, Lord Blunkett, Alan Johnson, the former secretary of state for education and skills, Ed Balls, former secretary of state for children, schools and families, and Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons' education select committee.

Last week, Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of Sage, said lack of access to high-quality digital education for the poorest children meant that schools should reopen.

"From a purely epidemiological point of view it makes a lot of sense to keep schools closed for longer and introduce more stringent testing," he said.

"Unfortunately, what we failed to do is address the digital divide among school children, such that the opportunity to provide high-quality online education for the poorest parts of the community is being lost."

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters