PM warned that pupils need devices and better connections for home schooling

PM warned that pupils need devices and better connections for home schooling
PM warned that pupils need devices and better connections for home schooling
Some children, unlike Leo (C), aged 6, and Espen, aged 3, do not have a device or internet connection which would help them with home schooling (Picture: AFP)

The Prime Minister has been told to take action now to get pupils ready for home schooling by a host of high profile public figures.

A coalition including charities, unions, MPs, a former prime minister and ex education secretaries warned Boris Johnson that hundreds of thousands of pupils lack the devices or connections needed to learn remotely, with schools shutting down during the coronavirus crisis.

Former prime minister Tony Blair and three ex-education secretaries are among those who have written to Mr Johnson calling on him to act regarding shortages of remote learning equipment and accessibility.

It comes as debate continues to rage over how many schools should be closed for the start of term this week, with a number of primary schools not opening today as planned and a number of teaching staff in open rebellion against the government’s plans. 

The letter was co-ordinated by Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, who said Ofcom estimates that between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children in the UK (9%) do not have home access to a laptop, desktop, or tablet and that more than 880,000 children live in a household with only a mobile internet connection.

On Sunday, Mr Johnson insisted that schools are safe, but the Government has moved to delay the opening of secondaries and kept some primaries shut in hard-hit areas. 

Data from the Office for National Statistics says only 51% of households earning between £6,000 and £10,000 have internet access, the MP said.

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Ms McDonagh explained: ‘Children on the wrong side of the digital divide have neither the data nor the devices to log in from home when their schools close.

‘In a country with free state education, no child’s education should be dependent on their internet connection.’

The letter to the Prime Minister comes as ministers and teaching unions have clashed over how many schools should be shut down, with Covid-19 cases surging at an unprecedented rate and hospitals teetering on the brink of being overwhelmed. 

It reads: ‘We write to you following the news that school will be closed for millions of pupils for the opening weeks of the new term.

‘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.

‘In October, the law changed to require teachers to provide remote education to pupils who are unable to attend school because of Covid-19.

‘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.’

The letter continues: ‘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.

‘These pupils were likely to be behind their peers even before the pandemic.

‘With the new term starting today, we are calling on you to urgently ensure that every child away from school has the data and device that they need to log in and learn from home.

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‘This will require a register of which children are without the technology or connectivity and a clear plan for how they will quickly receive this.’

Among those who signed the letter are former education secretaries Lord Blunkett, Alan Johnson, and Baroness Morris.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘As the Prime Minister has said, children’s education has consistently been a national priority, which is why we want classrooms to reopen wherever possible in the new term. It is also vital that where public health advice means they can’t be, we have measures in place to prevent them from falling behind.

‘We have scaled up our devices scheme, alongside our tutoring offer to reach as many children and young people as possible.

‘More than one million laptops and tablets have been purchased for disadvantaged young people through this pandemic, supporting schools and students to ensure remote education is as strong as it can be.’

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Author: Harrison Jones