More pupils coming into schools owing to a lack of access to digital devices risks undermining the national lockdown attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19, headteachers have warned.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said a poll showed that nearly half of its members had only received 10 per cent of the laptops they had requested for pupils.
The NAHT also said that just over half of its members reported that between 20 and 40 per cent of pupils have been attending school and in some cases as many as 70 per cent of pupils have been in since Boris Johnson announced the lockdown.
The list of pupils who are eligible to attend school during the new lockdown has been extended to include “those who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home, for example owing to a lack of devices or quiet space to study.”
Alison Peacock, chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching, said she has contacted the Department for Education to warn that a lack of access to digital devices risks undermining the effectiveness of the lockdown.
Mr Whiteman said its members have found that demand for critical worker and vulnerable places in schools is greater now than it was during the first lockdown.
He said: “It is critical that key-worker child school places are only used when absolutely necessary to truly reduce numbers and spread of the virus.
“We have concern that the government has not supplied enough laptops for all the children without them and so has made lack of internet access a vulnerable criteria – only adding to numbers still in school.
"It is important that all vulnerable pupils have access to a school place but the government must provide laptops and internet access for every pupil that needs one, so that they can access home learning to take some of the strain off the demand for school places.
“Nearly half of headteachers who we polled during a webcast this evening said they had received less than 10 per cent of the laptops they’d requested.
"It is essential that this is rectified immediately, so that we can keep school attendance figures at a level which will have the desired impact on getting transmission rates under control.”
In a post on Twitter, Ms Peacock said: “I have contacted the Department for Education today concerned about the large numbers of children attending school as lockdown 3 begins. Today’s announcement from Gavin Williamson about ‘vulnerable’ [children], including those who cannot learn digitally from home, threatens the effectiveness of ‘closure’.”
I have contacted @educationgovuk today concerned about the large numbers of children attending school as #lockdown3 begins. Today’s announcement from @GavinWilliamson about ‘vulnerable’ including those who cannot learn digitally from home threatens the effectiveness of ‘closure’.— Alison Peacock (@AlisonMPeacock) January 6, 2021
A poll of NAHT members found that more than half of its members had between 20 and 40 per cent of pupils attending during the first days of the lockdown.
And 14 per cent of schools had more than 40 per cent of their pupils in attendance.
Posting on Twitter, assistant headteacher Caroline Spalding highlighted concerns about a lack of laptops during the lockdown.
She said: “If all pupils without laptops came into school, we’d have in over 300 in our secondary phase. How on earth would this count as a lockdown, Gavin Williamson? Why not just provide the devices we need?”
The government said yesterday that schools must include video content in their online learning provision.
It said it “expects schools to have a digital platform, such as G-Suite or Microsoft Education, and should provide at least some of their remote provision via video lessons – this can be done by school-led videos or using other providers, like Oak National Academy”.
The Department for Education has been approached for comment.