Headteachers have reacted angrily after being told that their allocation of laptops had been cut "massively" by the Department for Education.
Schools received an email last night, after many had finished for half-term, telling them that the department had purchased nearly 100,000 more devices but that under a new ordering system this will mean they will be allocated fewer.
Some have been told they are receiving less than 20 per cent of the allocation they had been expecting.
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Headteacher Michael Tidd said that it was "disingenuous at best" for the DfE to cut schools' laptop allocations just a day after they were given a legal duty to ensure that pupils had instant access to remote education.
The DfE has said the number of laptops being allocated is being brought in line with the numbers of pupils who are typically unable to attend as a result of Covid.
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It also said that new devices would be targeted at areas of the country with higher levels of Covid-19 and more pupils self-isolating.
Mr Tidd, a Tes columnist, said the DfE email went out just as many schools started the half-term break.
"It seems like that was deliberately left until 5.50pm last night," the head of East Preston Junior School, in West Sussex said. "The email came through saying they were changing the allocation of laptops and tablets.
“Like for many schools, we have had a legal requirement put on us since Thursday to plan for remote learning. So lots of schools have been planning for that knowing that there was this operation in place.
"Then the day after all of those plans had to be finalised, then we get told that the number of laptops we were expecting has been reduced massively.
“For us, we don’t have huge levels deprivation in our school. But we were expecting to have 17 laptops available to us and as of yesterday that has been reduced to three.
“We are a school that has around 40 pupils eligible for the disadvantaged pupil premium – so it is a very small number.”
Chris Dyson, head of Parklands Primary, Leeds, who has seen his allocation cut from 61 to 13 laptops, described the DfE as "absolute jokers". He has written to the department saying he is "flabbergasted" by the "contempt" it had shown to disadvantaged schools.
Is someone at the @educationgovuk #Dfe having a laugh? Email Fri night during half term...”We are changing the way we are allocating laptops.” YEAHHH I thought until I saw we have been cut from 61 to 13! Absolute jokers -remote learning!I have had it with these numpties #clueless pic.twitter.com/nSNuXTMsGR— Chris Dyson (@chrisdysonHT) October 23, 2020
It was put to Mr Tidd on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning that the DfE had said the allocation has been reduced to bring it in line with the number of pupils who were self-isolating.
But Mr Tidd said the cuts seem to have been applied nationally. He said he had spoken to a colleague in Leeds, in a "high alert" level area, where Covid cases are higher.
He had many more pupils who were eligible and yet had seen his allocation slashed from around 60 to 15, the head said.
“If it is meant to be doing that [following the number of pupils self-solating], then it doesn’t seem to be allocated in a way that makes sense for that. It just seems like they have over-promised and are now going to under-deliver regardless of where you are," Mr Tidd said.
“To be fair, it does say that if you think there are extra circumstances you can contact them for more. But I think what headteachers find difficult is that we have had this extra legal duty put on us.
"All schools wanted to prepare for remote learning. But the legal requirement is that we must provide immediate access to remote learning. So actually if we have to wait now until we are 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.
“It is the combination of that with this sudden stipulation that by law we have to have remote access immediately ready, and to make that change the day after that requirement comes into force seems kind of disingenuous at best by the DfE.”
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said: “The fact that the government is simultaneously announcing an additional supply of laptops, whilst at the same time reducing each school’s allocation, demonstrates that it has seriously underestimated the impact coronavirus would have on schools this term.
“The government has been quick to mandate what it expects schools to be able to do when it comes to remote learning, but is clearly unable to deliver the necessary tools that schools and their pupils need.
“It beggars belief that within 24 hours of making immediate access to remote learning a legal requirement, the government has announced that it is reducing the number of laptops schools are eligible to receive.”
A Department for Education 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 purchased an additional 96,000 devices and continue to work closely with our suppliers to ensure delivery despite the increased global demand.”
The DfE said from the next half-term, its new approach would ensure that allocations are more effectively targeted to the children, schools and areas of the country that have greatest need, including those in higher tiers where children are more likely to be isolating.
It has also said that if a school is fully closing for a sustained period, its regional schools commissioner will work with it to ensure it receives enough devices to meet the needs of all disadvantaged children in Years 3 to 11 who do not already have one.