Teachers call for DfE's free laptop scheme to be expanded

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Teachers and school leaders are asking the Department for Education (DfE) to consider extending its free laptop initiative to cover a wider range of disadvantaged pupils.

Last week, the DfE unveiled plans to supply laptops or tablets to disadvantaged children in England. It comes alongside plans to provide 4G routers to families with disadvantaged secondary pupils that have no mobile or broadband access (DfE, 2020a).

Children eligible for the laptops include those with a social worker, care-leavers and disadvantaged year 10 students who will be sitting their GCSEs next year.

However, education unions have immediately called for the scheme to be expanded nationally across “all stages and ages”.

There has been limited information made available about how the scheme will be rolled out. The DfE has confirmed, however, that schools will be able to keep the donated hardware after re-opening.

It comes after the launch of the Oak National Academy on Monday (April 20). Backed with around £300,000 in government grant funding, the initiative has been created by 40 teachers and will provide 180 video lessons a week, across a range of subjects and for every year group from Reception through to year 10.

Monday (April 20), also saw the launch of the new BBC Bitesize programming and online learning resources.

And on Sunday (April 19), the DfE launched its own guidance for parents on how they can support home learning activities for their children. It offers links to a range of learning resources as well as advice about mental health and wellbeing and staying safe online (DfE, 2020b).

For now, the guidance focuses on early years, primary and SEN children, with further guidance to be added in due course for older learners.

The guidance states: “No-one expects parents to act as teachers, or to provide the activities and feedback that a school or nursery would. Parents and carers should do their best to help children and support their learning while dealing with competing demands.”

Earlier this month, the DfE has published a list of learning resources for families (DfE, 2020c).

SecEd has also published part one and part two of our compendium of resources, many of which are freely available, for teachers and students (SecEd 2020a; 2020b). Meanwhile, a range of SecEd best practice advice for home learning, with articles relevant to both teachers and parents, can be found here.

Launching the laptop scheme, education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “By providing young people with these laptops and tablets and enabling schools to access high-quality support, we will enable all children to continue learning now and in the years to come. We hope this support will take some of the pressure off both parents and schools by providing more materials for them to use.”

However, while welcoming the free laptop scheme, education unions are keen to see it expanded further and rolled out quickly.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, praised the efforts of schools so far to support the learning of pupils who do not have internet access.

He added: “We welcome the government scheme to provide laptops and tablets to disadvantaged year 10 pupils, but this needs to be extended to other age groups too. Many schools are themselves sourcing laptops for disadvantaged youngsters, but a government scheme on a national basis for all pupils who do not have online access would be hugely beneficial.

“It is absolutely vital that we do everything possible to support these young people because they are likely to suffer the greatest detrimental impact to their education during the school shutdown.”

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, added: “It will be essential that every child has access to the hardware and connectivity they will need to access learning online and on air. Ensuring immediate access to technology for every child will be critically important and the government will need to demonstrate that it is prepared to put in the additional investment where and when it is needed.”

And Paul Whiteman, general secretary of National Association of Head Teachers, said: “It is essential that the benefits of any online learning offers are felt by all pupils and increasing access to the necessary technology is a vital part of this.

“Every phase of education is important, and we hope to see this scheme expanded so that the least advantaged children across all ages and stages have the technology they need to help them succeed.

“Of course, a project of this scale will require careful planning and there are significant logistical challenges to be overcome, not least the speed at which these devices can be sourced and delivered. If successful, the scheme could make a real difference to many disadvantaged young people in the coming months.”

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