DfE still short of 1.3 million laptop target despite Gibb promise

The DfE promised 1.3 million free laptops for pupils in need by the end of March but missed the target.

The Department for Education had still not fulfilled its pledge to deliver 1.3 million free laptops to disadvantaged pupils a month after schools fully re-opened, figures show.

The latest official data on the provision of devices shows the DfE fell just short of schools minister Nick Gibb’s pledge that all laptops and tablets would be “delivered by the end of March.”

A total of 1,295,752 devices had been either dispatched or delivered to councils, trusts, schools and colleges by April 8. It left provision more than 4,000 short of the total promised even as schools closed once more for the Easter break.

But officials say all schools which need devices have already ordered and received them. and the remaining stock will be delivered once schools order devices allocated to them.

The department has previously said all 1.3 million devices were made available to schools to order, if not delivered, by the end of last month.

It comes almost a year after education secretary Gavin Williamson first unveiled the government’s plan to provide free laptops to support remote learning during the first coronavirus lockdown. He told a Downing Street press conference on April 19 last year the government was “ordering laptops to help disadvantaged young people who sit key exams next year.”

Gavin Williamson

The government initially planned to provided one million devices for remote learning, before promising a further 300,000 after schools partially closed again from January in the latest lockdown.

Schools have been able to apply for devices from the latest batch since February after the first million devices were delivered. The DfE wrote to school leaders on the final day of March stating that some schools “still have laptops and routers allocated,” encouraging leaders to order devices.

Pre-pandemic data from broadcast regulator Ofcom suggested 9 per cent of children – between 1.1 and 1.8 million – did not have access to laptops, devices or tablets at home.

This only covered children “without home access”, rather than those without individual access, meaning the real figure is likely to be much higher.

Ministers have highlighted the 2.9 million devices already owned by schools prior to the pandemic.

But a report by the Sutton Trust in January found two-thirds of senior leaders in state schools reported having to source IT equipment for disadvantaged pupils themselves while waiting for government support.

Some schools and trusts funded laptops themselves as the pandemic hit, or received cash from local and national fundraising efforts. Academies Enterprise Trust spent £2m on Chromebooks, other devices, wifi access and other IT support for pupils.

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