Rachel Reeves MP has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson demanding an answer over the Government’s failure to provide laptops to help schools cope with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Leeds West MP says the Department for Education ‘slashed the allocation of Government-promised laptops for the poorest and most vulnerable children across the country by as much as 80 per cent’.
The laptops were intended to help schools provide remote lessons to pupils unable to attend the classroom because of the pandemic.
The move comes after Burley St Matthias Primary co-headteachers Kate Cameron and Debra Dettmar contacted Ms Reeves to outline how they could only access the 45 allocated devices once the school was forced to collapse a bubble in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak.
The restriction meant the school has had to try to fund the devices from its overstretched budgets to ensure children do not miss out on their education.
Ms Reeves has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and warned that the cuts risk causing serious damage to the education of many children. Her letter calls on the Education Secretary to explain how digital devices are being allocated to schools and why he has failed local schools.
The Leeds West MP warned that many families are struggling to access online learning for children because they do not have access to laptops or tablets and often have to rely on just one mobile phone. Other households suffer because they have no access to WIFI or limited computer skills. She said:
“Many students from schools in my constituency are isolating on an individual basis, as opposed to a bubble collapsing. In which case, they would have no access to the emergency digital device.
“The schools are trying their best to provide high quality education and support to their pupils in such unprecedented circumstances but find it hard to do so when they are not been given the basic infrastructure and help that they require from Government.
“The Government must clarify how it is allocating digital devices to schools, how schools are able to access these provisions and what the timescales are for delivery.
“Only this Government could introduce a legal duty on schools to provide online learning for pupils isolating at home and then cut their allocation of laptops almost immediately afterwards.
“Ministers need to get a grip to make sure schools and pupils have the laptops they need and internet access to make sure that no child is left behind.”
Burley St Matthias is in Kirkstall ward, and Councillor Hannah Bithell backed Ms Reeves’ calls. She said:
“It has become apparent that schools have not got the devices required to undertake their remote learning, which will affect our most deprived children.
“The Government have compounded this by slashing the numbers of devices just before half term. I am proud of the wonderful Inner West community for coming together on this issue and I would like to thank all those that have already donated.”
The Department for Education said that if a school is fully closing for a sustained period, their Regional Schools Commissioner will work with them to ensure they receive enough devices to meet the needs of all disadvantaged children in years three to 11 who do not already have one. A 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.
“In the context of significant global demand, we have updated 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 already purchased an additional 96,000 devices and continue to work closely with our suppliers to ensure delivery despite the increased global demand.”