Schools turn to philanthropists for laptops as wait for DfE devices continues

Schools and education charities are asking philanthropists and local businesses to provide devices for disadvantaged youngsters as the wait for Department for Education hardware continues.

The government has pledged “over 200,000” devices for disadvantaged year 10 pupils, care leavers and children who have a social worker.

But Schools Week revealed earlier this month that many schools’ allocations have fallen well short of what is needed. Ministers have admitted some children may not get a device until well into next month.

The Beckmead Trust, which runs eight settings in south London for pupils with social, emotional and mental health needs, recently raised £144,000 from “charitable and philanthropic” sources to pay for Chromebooks and dongles. These will go to 800 children in its own settings, and in pupil referral units, special schools and local authority services for vulnerable children outside the trust.

Dr Jonty Clark, Beckmead’s chief executive, said he understood why the government’s scheme had been targeted at certain year groups, but his trust “needed to provide across all our students because of their specific needs”.

“This wasn’t just for academic reasons but because we needed to maintain our attachments to our students – they are incredibly vulnerable and, for most of them, school is the only place they are truly safe.”

Last week, a senior DfE official warned that the the coronavirus outbreak and associated school closures could widen the attainment gap by up to 75 per cent.

The Tutor Trust In the north of England, which trains university students as tutors, has secured £10,000 through the Northern Powerhouse Partnership to help about 20 disadvantaged pupils.

Nick Bent, the charity’s chief executive, told Schools Week that most vulnerable young people had been “desperate to keep working with their tutors, but couldn’t get online”.

Private businesses and some individuals have also donated hardware to help pupils get online.

Cambois Primary School in Blyth, Northumberland, received 50 refurbished laptops from the National Grid, while four schools in West Sussex were given 40 laptops by Ferry Farm Community Solar, according to local news reports.

The Bohunt Education Trust received 111 devices and cash donations  after it appealed for help.

And in Brixton, south London, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, a local MP, has collected spare laptops and tablets from the community to give to schools in the area.

Pressed this week on the progress of its own scheme, the DfE insisted there was “no delay”. Deliveries “have started this month and will continue in June”.

“The department is prioritising the delivery of devices to the most vulnerable children first – children with a social worker and care leavers. This will be followed by devices for disadvantaged year 10 children who do not have access to a device through other means.”