The government assumed schools had as many as 282 laptops each in its calculation to decide how many additional free devices they would receive for disadvantaged pupils.
The disclosure may go some way to explaining reports yesterday that just 27 academy trusts received just one laptop under the £85 million government scheme to ensure poorer pupils didn’t miss out during lockdown learning.
A total of 200,000 laptops were issued to schools for disadvantaged year 10s and other vulnerable pupils, but school leaders said their allocations fell way short of what was needed.
Schools Week can now reveal this is because the government reached its allocation estimates based on an assumption that secondary schools already had an average of 87.3 tablets and 194.6 laptops. Primaries were estimated as having an average of 27.2 tablets and 49.1 laptops. The figures were based on a BESA survey from 2019.
When working out council and academy trust allocations, the department used these figures as “assumptions that private device need will be met to some extent by the device endowments of schools and college”.
But Bob Harrison, a school governor and former education adviser to Toshiba, said this rationale had been described to him by one headteacher as “bonkers”.
“It is a classic accountancy spreadsheet logic which is unrelated to the actual needs. Why couldn’t schools be allocated an amount based on pupil premium, then the schools could use their in-depth knowledge of the problem to decide where, when and how to intervene for maximum impact?”
Figures obtained by the schools commissioner, reported by the Huffington Post reported, revealed despite 540,000 pupils being eligible for the scheme – just 220,000 laptops were delivered to schools by August.
The government had also already missed its own target to deliver all the laptops by the end of June.
However, in freedom of information request response seen by Schools Week, the Department for Education did say after its estimate on how many laptops schools already had – they subtracted the proportion that were estimated to have been provided to teachers. This figure was based on Teacher Tapp survey from March.
This then allowed them to “reach an initial allocation for local authorities and academy trusts”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was “obviously a pretty crude way of working out how many laptops and tablets are already available to schools and therefore how many more are needed to fulfil the government commitment”.
“However, we recognise that the priority was to get laptops and tablets out to schools as quickly as possible, and the Department for Education has attempted to make the best assessment it can in the circumstances. We certainly would not have wanted to see any further delay in the process. It has taken longer than we would have liked to deliver the laptops and tablets as it is.”
The DfE also said that it had set up a route for councils and trusts to request additional devices where their allocation fell short. Schools would have to “explain how they have identified this need” alongside providing “evidence to support this”.
The FOI read: “The department the reviewed requests for additional devices and allocated any additional devices to local authorities and trusts for eligible children and young people.”
But Barton added: “The important thing now is to treat this as a starting point. We would like to see the scheme extended further so that laptops and tablets are made available to disadvantaged children in all year groups who need them.
“This is important in the likely event that there is further disruption to education because of the pandemic and children need to periodically work from home. But it is also important in the longer term to close the digital divide and make sure that all children are able to utilise the wealth of learning resources available online.”
A study in July suggested the attainment gap between primary pupils had widened by up 52 per cent during school closures.