Pressure on government to provide laptops for lockdown learning

Mayor John Biggs... "The fund is to support people with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, espe

Mayor John Biggs senses people are weary of Covid-19 - Credit: LBTH

Tower Hamlets Council has warned it is short of 10,000 laptops for children who cannot attend school during lockdown as the row over access to online learning intensified.

It said there is a huge “digital divide” in the borough and many disadvantaged children are unable to access equipment through government schemes because their parent or carer may have a device.

It said the same children are unable to attend classes in person because of pressures on schools.

The Department for Education said it has distributed 700,000 devices to schools in England to help disadvantaged children during the pandemic.

But it uses “access” to a device as a metric for determining whether a student needs to be provided free equipment.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs warned this meant children living in a house with a device that could be used for home learning may not qualify – even if they are unable to use it for their studies because it is occupied by someone else.

“This is clearly an inadequate measure to facilitate quality learning,” Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs said.

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“It needs to instead consider whether a child can access a personal device and has the necessary broadband access too. If parents and children all need to work online they may not be able to.”

The council, which has the highest rate of child poverty in the UK, has written to education secretary Gavin Williamson asking for him to rethink the policy.

“Many families in Tower Hamlets live in overcrowded accommodation, with more than one child needing to access learning simultaneously,” Mr Biggs wrote in the letter.

“Teachers, parents and carers have raised their concerns about children not being able to access the online curriculum due to having to rely on shared devices. It is impossible to access timetabled lessons without a dedicated and suitable personal device.”

The Government has said children who do not have access to suitable equipment at home can be classed as vulnerable and attend school.

However, Tower Hamlets warned that in a borough like theirs this would push student numbers “well beyond” what teachers could cope with in lockdown.