More than four in five schools with the most deprived intakes don’t have access to the devices they need to help self-isolating pupils keep learning, a poll has found.
Research by Teacher Tapp on behalf of Teach First found 84 per cent of schools in the most deprived quartile said they did not have access to enough devices or the internet to keep pupils educated at home, compared to just 66 per cent of the least deprived schools.
The findings have prompted renewed calls for action from the government to address a digital divide brought into sharp focus by the coronavirus pandemic.
Schools scrambled to find the devices needed to help with home learning after schools were partially closed in March. Although the government made some laptops and 4G internet dongles available, some heads reported delays and not getting enough devices.
Some schools turned to local businesses or their academy trusts to provide devices. But the Teacher Tapp survey found that schools with the most affluent intakes were three times more likely to have been donated tech than schools with the poorest pupils.
“This is a stark reminder of the significant challenges faced by schools serving disadvantaged communities. It’s not right that some children will fall further behind at school simply because their families can’t afford laptops and internet access,” said Russell Hobby, Teach First’s chief executive.
He said he was “calling on government and big businesses to help schools bridge this divide so that, despite the pandemic, we can unlock the potential in all children, not just some”.
“All schools are doing their best in a challenging environment, yet the choices they face to make ends meet are deeply worrying – particularly if they have to cut vital areas of education to keep up with this urgent problem.”
Concerns over remote learning have resurfaced this term as school attendance rates have dropped as a result of rises in coronavirus infections. The government has placed a legal duty on schools to provide home learning to isolating pupils. But schools are struggling, with some reporting having to send entire year groups home at a time.
The government has responded by ordering more laptops, but schools saw their allocations slashed by around 80 per cent to ensure the stock lasts longer. Ministers have also allocated £650 million in catch-up grant funding to schools.
In the Teacher Tapp poll, 60 per cent of respondents in state schools said they would use the catch-up funding to pay for devices and internet access for pupils, while 47 per cent said they would raid their pupil premium budget and 27 per cent said they would use their reserves.
The Oak National Academy, an online classroom, had 578,000 pupils use its services last week, a 38 per cent rise on the week before.
Matt Hood, academy principal, said: “These findings again reveal that too often it’s the poorest students who are being cut out. We now need to see coordinated action.”
Around a quarter of users access Oak via a mobile. Completing one lesson uses around 250MB of data, totalling 10GB for two week’s isolation.
Oak is in talks with mobile phone suppliers to “zero-rate” educational websites – meaning the use of data on these sites would not be charged on a pay as you go deal, nor count towards a users’ mobile data allowance.
Hood added: “Without this, our most vulnerable children risk falling further behind.”