300,000 extra government laptops for remote learning have not yet reached schools

None of the 300,000 extra laptops bought by the government for pupils in need have yet to be delivered.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said most of these additional devices will have been distributed by the end of the first week of March – two months into England’s lockdown.

A leading education union told The Independent the rollout of additional devices comes “far too late in the day”.

Most pupils have been learning at home since the start of the year and will be staying at home until at least 8 March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

On 12 January, the Department for Education (DfE) announced a further 300,000 more laptops and tablets for a disadvantaged students, which would provide “top-ups” to schools’ original allocations.

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The DfE said the overwhelming majority of schools have received their initial allocations. According to the latest government data, more than 920,000 devices have been delivered to schools under the scheme.

In an article published on Friday, Mr Williamson said: “From next week, schools will be invited to order from the 300,000 additional laptops and tablets to support the pupils who need them most, helping hundreds of thousands more students benefit and get online.”

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“Schools with the highest proportion of disadvantaged pupils will be prioritised to receive devices first, with the majority of device deliveries to be completed by the end of the first week of March,” he wrote in Schools Week.

Geoff Barton from the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) told The Independent it was of “critical importance” laptops reached children who need them “as quickly as possible”.

“We are pleased that an additional allocation is now being rolled out prioritised for schools with the highest levels of disadvantage,” he said. “Unfortunately, all of this comes far too late in the day, and these laptops should have been provided much earlier in the crisis.”

He added: “Even now, we are not convinced that the government fully understands the level of need, not only in terms of the number of laptops, but also over how many families do not have sufficient internet connectivity.”

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One headteacher told The Independent his school had been able to provide a device to every family who needs one even before receiving the extra devices from the increased allocation – although some have been “patched up” donations.

Michael Tidd said: “If the late laptops allow children even a couple of weeks decent internet access, it’s an improvement, but it’s still infuriating that we’re talking about timing so late in the day when we’ve known this was likely for best part of a year.”

Andy Byers, a headteacher in Durham, said he was happy with his initial allocation but “more laptops would always be welcome”. 

“There are questions to be asked about why they are still be allocated at the end of lockdown,” he added. “They will be welcomed and used but so much time was wasted in the first six months when the provision was inadequate.” 

In parliament last week, MPs raised concerns about children and schools still waiting for laptops weeks into lockdown.

Rushanara Ali, the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said Tower Hamlets in London was 10,000 laptops short of what was needed – and asked Nick Gibb, the schools minister, when these children would receive them.

“She failed to point out that we have already purchased 1.3 million laptops for disadvantaged children in our schools who may not have a device, on top of the 2.9 million laptops and tablets that already exist in our schools,” Mr Gibb replied. 

Stephen Timms, Labour MP for West Ham, said last week one school had asked for 100 devices but had received 32 – and asked where the hundreds of thousands devices that had been purchased but not delivered to schools were. 

“There is a lead time in all this, which is why we were putting in orders in August, September and October last year,” Mr Gibb replied. “We put in an order for 340,000 in November, and those devices are now being delivered.”

“On 12 January, we put in another order for 300,000 computers, which will begin to come on stream shortly.”

Under the government laptop scheme, schools are allocated laptops based on the number of children eligible for free schools meals, which they can then distribute depending on their needs. The DfE said schools have been able to get in touch to request more devices if needed.

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