Heads: Low digital access becoming a 'national scandal'

DfE's free laptops scheme only accounts for 'tiny proportion' of children lacking digital access during closures, ASCL says

Amy Gibbons

Remote learning during Covid-19 crisis

The fact that a "large number" of pupils have been unable to access technology at home during the coronavirus crisis is "close to a national scandal", heads have said.

Speaking to the Commons Education Select Committee this morning, Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said the government's free laptops scheme only accounts for a "tiny proportion" of children who are lacking digital access while schools are closed.

She said technology is "not a panacea", but "we must do better" to improve access among pupils learning from home.

Related: Half of free laptops left to be delivered in two weeks

Digital access: DfE works with Border Force to bring free laptops to UK

Exclusive: Free laptops not guaranteed before schools reopen

"This is absolutely crucial," Ms McCulloch said.

"I think it's been actually close to a national scandal over this term that we've had such a large number of young people who haven't had access to technology at home.

"We know that technology, as others have said, is not a panacea. But in order for children to learn over this long period that they've been out of school, which may continue beyond this – so this is a future issue as well as a current one – in order for children to learn successfully and to be able to stand any chance of keeping up, they need to have access to the technologies that they need to do that.

"We know that there has been a scheme to get laptops out to some disadvantaged Year 10 pupils, but that's a tiny proportion of the children who don't have access to technology. We need to do better on that."

It was revealed yesterday that the government has only two weeks to deliver more than half of the free laptops it pledged to provide for vulnerable and disadvantaged children by the end of June.

Department for Education (DfE) data shows that 114,536 laptops and tablets had been delivered or dispatched to local authorities or academy trusts by 14 June.

Last week, education secretary Gavin Williamson said in the House of Commons that more than 100,000 laptops had already been delivered to vulnerable and disadvantaged children, and the government was "on schedule to distribute the full 230,000" over the coming month.

If the DfE is to deliver 230,000 laptops and tablets by the end of June, this would mean 115,464 – over half of the total – must be dispatched over the next two weeks.

And to achieve this, the figures suggest that the rate of delivery must be increased.

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Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons

Amy Gibbons is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @tweetsbyames

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