By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Around 3,500 laptops have been issued by the government to disadvantaged students in Kent as headteachers and councillors warn “this is not enough”.
The Department for Education (DfE) has also provided just over 400 4G routers to the county’s youngsters that are struggling with their home wifi connections, since the third national lockdown was announced this month.
Kent County Council’s (KCC) education cabinet member, Cllr Richard Long (Con), yesterday said the devices have been deployed to pupils with a social worker and some “vulnerable” Year 10 students.
Meanwhile, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has today announced that 100,000 laptops were delivered to schools across England last week.
However, more than 200,000 Kent students are working from home, data from KCC reveals. Some pupils will have wifi and laptop access, but not all.
County Hall’s main opposition leader, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), said the local education authority should be lobbying the Government for more urgent help.
The Maidstone county councillor said: “The 3,500 laptops are nowhere near enough. I would argue that KCC should be doing much more to secure extra.
“They should collect old laptops from people that may no longer need them.”
Amid the third lockdown, families without “adequate” access to online learning have been encouraged to send their children into school by the government.
Just over 21,000 vulnerable pupils and critical care worker children are studying in the majority of Kent’s 600 primary and secondary schools.
During the first national restrictions, from March to June, around 5,000 students carrying out their studies at the education establishments.
Alan Brookes, who is the chair of Kent Association of Headteachers, said some primary schools were up to 50% student capacity as he calls for a “clear long-term plan” out the crisis.
He said: “It has not gone well. From the first announcement in April to the present time, it has been very disappointing.
“The government seems to have wasted the last eight to nine months to prepare for this situation. They are struggling to catch up with this crisis.”
The Sittingbourne Fulston Manor governor warned that remote learning was also heaping “huge” financial pressures on Kent families paying for the costs of wifi data at home.
He added: “Ministers seem to be rushing around to do all of this at the last minute.”
The DfE has invested more than £400million to help disadvantaged children who need the most help with access to technology through the pandemic. They have issued 1.3million laptops since the start of the crisis last March.
The Education Secretary, Mr Williamson, said: “I know just how difficult the past year has been for parents and teachers, now more so than ever.
“I want nothing more than for every child to be in the classroom with their friends and teachers, but with that not possible we are doing everything in our power to support schools with high-quality remote education.
“These additional devices add to the significant support we are making available to help schools deliver high-quality online learning, as we know they have been doing.”
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said he welcomed measures to ensure youngsters can receive good quality home learning provision.
He said: “I know the Government did not take the decision to close schools and colleges lightly and I have grave concerns about the further negative impact the closure of our schools will have on the current generation’s education.
“The key task for teachers will be to mitigate that impact as best they can and the Government must do all it can to support them, so I welcome the distribution of 2,963 more devices to support remote learning in Kent.
“While nothing can ever replace the benefits of learning in a classroom for our children and young people, we will continue to do everything we can to make sure they have access to a high-quality remote education until such time as schools can return to face-to-face learning.”
Thanet Tech Recycle
In Thanet an initiative has been set up to recycle old tech devices and get them to schools and families.
Thanet Tech Recycle charity says: “Our aim is to recycle unwanted tech devices that you no longer use so that our volunteers can service and distribute them absolutely free to local schools and local communities who need them most.