United Kingdom

More than a third of low-income households do not have devices needed for remote schooling

More than a third of low-income households do not have the laptops and tablets needed for remote schooling, a damning report reveals today.

Pupils have been told to use the devices to learn at home while schools are closed to most children.

This has opened a 'digital divide' between middle-class children and pupils from low-income households who are struggling without computer access.

The extent of the divide is laid bare in a survey by the Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, which found that 35 per cent of families are still lacking sufficient access to devices, compared with 11 per cent of high-income homes.

More than a third of low-income households do not have the laptops and tablets needed for remote schooling, a damning report reveals today

Problems have been compounded by the Government's sluggish progress in delivering laptops and tablets, with only 800,000 out of a promised 1.3million distributed so far.

Ofcom has estimated up to 1.78million children have no access to a computer. 

School Covid test plans on hold 

Ministers have suspended plans for mass daily testing of pupils and teachers amid growing fears the closure of schools could last until April.

Last month, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said rapid testing for Covid-19 would be a 'milestone moment' in allowing schools to stay open.

The plans were intended to keep more children in school by sending home only those who tested positive after a rapid lateral flow test. 

In theory, this would eliminate the need for entire class 'bubbles' to be sent home. 

But health experts questioned the safety of the system, and yesterday the Department for Education admitted the plans were on hold other than for a small number of schools who were evaluating them. 

Their work did not take into account the many more sharing devices with siblings and parents.

Worse still, the survey revealed state school teachers are saying more than one in five of their pupils completely lack computer access.

This could be because parents who are out of work as a result of the pandemic are having to return computers to employers, use them to look for work, or they may be struggling to afford internet bills. 

Three quarters of secondary school heads said they have been forced to try to source laptops while they wait for government supplies.

Despite their efforts, only 10 per cent of teachers reported that all their students have adequate access to a device for remote learning.

And only five per cent of state school teachers said all of their students have internet access.

The effect on children's education is already starkly apparent. 

According to the survey, 40 per cent of children in middle class homes are learning for more than five hours a day, compared with 26 per cent in working-class households.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said that the impact of lost learning was 'devastating and will be felt for years to come'

'The immediate priority has to be to address the gap in digital provision between rich and poor,' he added.

The Trust is recommending that laptop and internet access 'should continue to be rolled out at speed through the government programme'.

'Every day that goes by with pupils lacking access to the tools for online learning widens gaps and harms the long-term prospects of young people,' the report added.

The charity is also calling for a one-off £750million pupil premium boost that would give schools an additional £400 per eligible pupil to spend to help them catch up.

Ofcom has estimated up to 1.78million children have no access to a computer

Most school staff in the survey cited a faster rollout of laptops as the single most helpful intervention for poorer pupils.

The findings are based on polls of 6,475 teachers and 877 parents taken this month.

A Department for Education spokesman said: 'We are aware of the additional challenges faced by disadvantaged children during this crisis, which is why we are providing 1.3million laptops and tablets, alongside access to free mobile data.'

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