Two-thirds of leaders ‘sourcing IT equipment’ for poorest pupils themselves, study finds

NEU teaching Covid

Two thirds of senior leaders in state schools are having to “source IT equipment for disadvantaged pupils themselves” while waiting for government help with laptops, according to a new report.

Despite the government’s programme to gradually distribute 1.3 million laptops, the digital divide between the wealthiest and least affluent schools is wider in this lockdown than the first, the Sutton Trust has revealed.

School staff are having to step in where poorer pupils don’t have digital devices, said the report, entitled Learning in Lockdown.

The situation is worst in secondary schools, where 72 per cent of senior leaders are having to source IT equipment for pupils. The figures are from a Teacher Tapp survey of up to 6,208 teachers from 7th January.

Now the Sutton Trust has said the government should provide a one-off £750 million “boost” to the pupil premium, worth about £400 per pupil, to be used by schools to fund catch up.

The report also revealed that 47 per cent of state school senior leaders said their school has only been able to supply half of their pupils or fewer with the laptops they have needed.

That figure was higher in the most deprived schools, where 56 per cent of teachers said only half or fewer pupils had been given the laptops they needed, compared with just 39 per cent of teachers at the most affluent schools.

Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust, said the “immediate priority has to be to address the gap in digital provision between rich and poor”.

“The government has made good progress, but they need to do more. There also has to be substantial additional funding for schools when they reopen, focussed on students from low-income backgrounds who have fallen even further behind.”

Meanwhile, the digital divide between the state and private schools sector has also widened since the first lockdown.

Just five per cent of state school teachers reported all of their students having access to the internet, compared to 51 per cent in the private sector.

“[T]his gap has actually grown since March 2020,” warns the report, when the figures were six per cent and 38 per cent across the state and private sectors respectively.

The gap in the use of online “live” video conferencing has also widened since the first lockdown.

Eighty-six per cent of private schools now use this method, compared to half of state schools – a gap of 36 percentage points, compared with a 26 percentage point gap in March 2020.

The good news is pupils are doing more work than in the first lockdown, according to a YouGov survey and Sutton Trust/Public First survey of parents in the report.

The proportion of primary pupils doing more than five hours a day of learning rising from 11 per cent to 23 per cent, and for secondary students from 19 per cent to 45 per cent. However it’s still the case that more affluent pupils are working longer.

Almost a full year into this crisis, there should be no children left without access to a laptop and the internet

The Sutton Trust also recommended the National Tutoring Programme should be extended to the next comprehensive spending review and include post-16 students. Post-16 learners should also receive targeted funding support like the pupil premium, which currently stops at age 16.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was “pretty clear from this research that there are still significant gaps in laptop provision despite the government’s programme to provide devices to disadvantaged youngsters”.

Meanwhile Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the “government could have ameliorated some of this by acting faster”.

“Almost a full year into this crisis, there should be no children left without access to a laptop and the internet.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are aware of the additional challenges faced by disadvantaged children during this crisis, which is why we are providing 1.3 million laptops and tablets for those who need them most, with more than 800,000 of these delivered already, alongside access to free mobile data for disadvantaged families”.

They added it was “encouraging” to see more teachers providing live lessons during this lockdown.

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