Portsmouth education leaders warn that government laptops handout only ‘scratches the surface’ for city children
NEARLY 2,000 children across the city have now received a laptop from the government to help bridge the digital divide of lockdown.
However with 7,500 children eligible for free school meals one of the city’s leading headteachers, while welcoming the laptops, has said ‘it only scratches the surface’ of the number of devices needed.
A total of 1,818 laptops have now been provided by the government for disadvantaged children who’ve been struggling to access remote learning. The rollout is part of the government’s campaign to provide 1.3 million digital devices to children across the country.
Conservative Councillor and shadow cabinet member for education Terry Norton said: ‘No child should miss out as a result of the disruption caused by this pandemic. That is why it has been our priority to equip those children most in need with the resources they need to succeed.
‘The 1,818 devices we now have received will ensure no child’s education is hindered, regardless of their background or circumstance.’
However Priory School headteacher Stewart Vaughan believes far more still needs to be done to bridge the digital divide exposed during the pandemic.
Mr Vaughan said: ‘It’s important to recognise and be grateful to the government for any devices received but this only scratches the surface of what is needed across the city. In my school alone we have 443 children who are Pupil Premium and would be classed as being disadvantaged.
‘In the summer the government said it would provide all disadvantaged children with a digital device and while almost 2,000 computers are certainly welcomed it would be wrong to suggest this comes anywhere close to meeting this promise.’
Priory School was originally told it would receive 143 laptops but only 23 arrived in the autumn. After being informed in December that the devices were no longer going to be delivered the remaining allocation of 120 laptops arrived a last month.
Mr Vaughan said: ‘There is no doubt children in some households will have struggled massively during this period. These computers suddenly arrived at the start of the second school lockdown. These computers must have been there but for whatever reason they weren’t deemed necessary until this second lockdown became inevitable.
‘While the government has played a part in helping to bridge the digital divide the process has been sporadic, contradictory and unreliable.’
Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for education Suzy Horton has welcomed the government computers but stressed more needed to be done.
She said: ‘Any amount of computers are welcome but it doesn’t match the need in the city. The number of children eligible for free school meals has increased since the start of the pandemic and so demand is even greater.
‘The scheme also doesn’t include infant schools and so the council has provided £100,000 of funding to help provide additional devices for these schools.’
With a target date of March 8 set for pupils to return to school, Mr Vaughan hopes the government will continue the scheme beyond lockdown.
He said: ‘The massive digital disadvantage during lockdown has deepened the educational disadvantage. Hopefully this is recognised by the government and we can continue to provide these devices once lockdown comes to an end.’