WARRINGTON Borough Council is urging the Department for Education urged to reconsider a decision which they claim has resulted in a reduction in laptops for vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
On Friday evening, as Warrington’s schools began their half-term holidays, the Department for Education wrote to headteachers telling them that they were changing the way laptops to support disadvantaged children were being allocated to schools. As the impact of this change is now becoming apparent, it is clear that Warrington’s schools are missing out. Of the 57 schools who have shared information so far, 50 have seen a reduction in the number of laptops they are being provided with.
Cllr. Matt Smith, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Warrington Borough Council, said: “During lockdown it became apparent across the country that disadvantaged children, for example, those from low income families, were falling further behind in their learning than others. One reason for this was their lack of access to internet-enabled devices and broadband connections. These are essential to engage in the online remote learning schools are now expected to provide. The Department for Education announced a scheme to provide laptops for disadvantaged children to help address these issues.
“As the details of the scheme emerged it became clear that, even including the devices provided by the DfE, Warrington’s schools were still going to fall around 400 laptops short of the total number they needed for their disadvantaged children. We wrote to the Secretary of State for Education at the end of August outlining this problem and asked that the allocation of laptops to our schools was increased.
“It was with absolute disbelief that we heard from our schools over the weekend that the DfE had written to them on Friday, explaining that the allocation of laptops for disadvantaged children had been changed. This change was going to result in even fewer laptops being provided for children who need them in our town.”
Cllr. Russ Bowden, Leader, Warrington Borough Council, along with Cllr. Smith have written to the Secretary of State for Education to express their concern. Their letter states, “Everybody involved in education here is deeply committed to ensuring that all our children and young people have every opportunity to achieve their best, but this reduction in the allocation of laptops to disadvantaged children runs contrary to that ambition… When the DfE should be pulling out all the stops to support disadvantaged children, it is both short-sighted and deeply disappointing that they have chosen to instead pull the rug from under them.”
They go on to urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the decision to reduce school’s allocation of laptops and to increase it in line with the need identified by each school.
Cllr. Bowden added, “At the end of last week the Government caused controversy by rejecting calls for free meals for eligible children to be extended to cover school holidays. As this week begins, we now see another decision from the Department for Education which is an act of bad faith towards those children who need the most support. This decision – and the timing of the decision just before half-term – follows a worrying trend for our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. These decisions are intolerable and we will continue to challenge them. We make no apologies for demanding the best for Warrington’s children and young people. Digital disadvantage cannot be allowed to hold them back.”
A Spokesperson for the DFE said: “With schooling now being prioritised and 99% open, the number of students working at home is far less than during the lockdown.
“The new allocation means that schools will continue to have the number of laptops that is better matched to the amount of students being sent home for isolation periods. If a school does think they need more, and can justify this, they can contact the department to raise this request.
“Securing laptops is an immense operation, with 330,000 laptops delivered already, and the Government has recently purchased another 90,000 last week – for context, the UK Government is now one of the world’s largest purchasers of laptops. Better matching supply to demand will help us to get them where they are needed more effectively and faster.”