Free laptops, tablets and internet for disadvantaged pupils during lockdown

20 April 2020, 08:46

Pupils from poorer backgrounds will receive free laptops and tablets
Pupils from poorer backgrounds will receive free laptops and tablets. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are to receive free laptops and tablets to help them learn during the coronavirus lockdown.

Pupils in English schools from poorer families will also be provided with 4G routers so they can access the internet if their families do not already have mobile or broadband internet, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

The measure is part of a drive to make remote learning more accessible while schools remain closed during the coronavirus lockdown, and includes a new online academy to deliver lessons online.

Mr Williamson apologised to students for the interruption to their studies while also saying no date has been set for re-opening schools in England.

It comes on what would have been the first day of the summer term in schools.

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The government-launched Oak National Academy started offering online lessons on Monday, having been set up in less than a fortnight by 40 teachers from some of England's leading schools.

It will offer 180 lessons per week and will cover a broad range of subjects such as maths, arts and languages for children aged between reception and year 10.

Electronic devices will be ordered for pupils "in the most vital stages of their education for those who receive support from a social worker and care leavers", the Department for Education (DfE) said.

To be eligible for the scheme the student must not already have a device, have a social worker, are care leavers, or are disadvantaged in year 10 ahead of their GCSEs next year.

The DfE said schools and colleges will be free to keep hold of the laptops and tablets upon reopening.

A further £1.6 million will also be made available by the government to the NSPCC so it can expand its national helpline for adults.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the charity, said: "The NSPCC Helpline is a crucial cog in the child protection system, last year we responded to almost 73,000 contacts from people with concerns about a child's welfare.

"At a time when there are increased risks of harm to vulnerable children but teachers and social workers' access to them is more limited, we must all play our part in recognising the signs of abuse and neglect and be sure to report any concerns."

Becca Lyon, Save the Children's head of child poverty, said: "Additional online support for all children to continue their learning will help many, but those without access to the internet will still be missing out.

"Extending router availability to the families of younger children in poverty will ensure children continue to learn at a critical point in their development."

The Oak National Academy's online lessons began on Monday
The Oak National Academy's online lessons began on Monday. Picture: PA

Mr Williamson told the daily Downing Street press conference on Sunday that five tests must be met before English schools can re-open,

"People are anxious to know when we're going to relax restrictions, when schools are likely to be fully back and open again," he said.

"Of course, I want nothing more than to see schools back, get them back to normal, make sure the children are sat around, learning, and experiencing the joy of being at school.

"But I can't give you a date. Because before we do, we need to meet five tests."

The steps include protecting the NHS's ability to cope, seeing daily death rates come down, and having reliable data that proves the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels.

There must also be confidence that any changes do not risk a second peak of infections, the education secretary said.