Coronavirus: DfE's free laptops portal launch delayed

An application process for academy trusts and councils to secure free laptops for vulnerable and disadvantaged children has been delayed.

On Sunday, education secretary Gavin Williamson announced plans to provide free devices to aid home learning to disadvantaged year 10 pupils, along with care leavers and children with social workers.

The scheme aims to prevent youngsters who don’t have access to devices at home from falling behind during the partial closures of schools.

Under the government’s plans, local authorities and academy trusts will be able to submit business cases to the government via an online portal. Schools will then keep the devices once the lockdown ends.

Original guidance, published on Sunday, stated that “schools, trusts and local authorities will be able to place online orders for devices for eligible pupils from Wednesday 22 April”.

However, no facility for online orders was made available today, with DfE officials now pledging it would be available in the next few days.

When contacted by Schools Week, the department insisted the setback would not result in a delay to the supply of devices.

“The programme is progressing as planned and devices will start to be delivered in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson said.

Schools Week has also established the guidance issued on Sunday was later changed to remove any reference to today’s date.

The DfE did not announce the change at the time, explaining the updates simply added clarification on “who digital devices and internet access will be provided to” and “the role of responsible bodies in ordering digital devices for eligible children and young people”.

It comes as headteachers and school business leaders continue to grapple with problems with the DfE’s national free school meals voucher service.

Schools have struggled to access the website set up by supplier Edenred, leading to delays to the supply of vouchers to hard-up families.