Hampshire and Portsmouth headteachers welcome government’s laptop announcement - but are sceptical about how plan will work

The government’s plan to give laptops to all disadvantaged schoolchildren has been welcomed by headteachers in Portsmouth and Hampshire – but they say they want details of how the scheme will be run.

Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 4:26 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd April 2020, 12:33 pm

Education secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced on Sunday that vulnerable and disadvantaged children would receive free laptops, tablets and 4G routers to enable access to remote learning with schools remaining closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Williamson said: ‘By providing young people with these laptops and tablets and enabling schools to access high quality support, we will enable all children to continue learning now and in the years to come.’

However, with no details yet received, headteachers are sceptical.

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The government announced at the weekend that vulnerable and disadvantaged children would receive free laptops but schools have not yet received details of the scheme.

Ian Gates, headteacher at The Cowplain School, said: ‘While the principle is a good one I’m sceptical as to whether the government has the means and number of machines to implement it. It’s a great idea but the government still can’t get enough personal protective equipment to hospitals so how are they going to get all this IT equipment to schools?’

Headteacher at Crofton School in Stubbington, Simon Harrison, added: ‘While in the long term this could be a massive advantage for these pupils we need to see the details and how we will get this kit out to students.’

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With the announcement having been made at the weekend, schools are still to find out the specifics of how the initiative is to be implemented.

Headteacher, Simon Harrison, feels children who receive laptops will have 'massive long-term benefits' but is concerned about the logistics of getting the machines out to pupils. Picture: Loughlan Campbell

Mr Gates said: ‘This is another example of the government making an announcement and four days later there is no subsequent support then given. It’s a great idea but we need to get these computers out to students soon for it to have the necessary impact.’

Mr Harrison added: ‘My concern is how quickly we can get these computers out. We also need a clear definition of which children are classed as disadvantaged and eligible for the scheme.’

A statement on the Department for Education website states the devices are for children in the ‘most vital stages of their education, those who receive support from a social worker and care leavers’.

The concerns of headteachers have been exacerbated following their recent experience of the government’s lunch vouchers for Free School Meal children initiative.

Headteacher, Ian Gates (right), welcomes the government's announcement but is sceptical about the scheme's successful implementation. Picture : Neil Fatkin

Mr Gates said: ‘We are still awaiting clarity on how we are to distribute these vouchers. Initially the government said vouchers weren’t available over Easter and then on the first weekend of the holidays Michael Gove announced they were. This is why I’m slightly cynical. I like the principle but I want to see the substance.’

It’s a sentiment shared by Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for education, Suzy Horton.

Cllr Horton said: ‘I’m pleased to see the issue of digital inequality has been recognised by the government. The current education experience in lockdown varies greatly for different children. Some families may have one computer being shared between five or more people.

‘Like all these announcements the devil is in the detail. I’m heartened by the sentiment but we need to see how it plays out.’

Portsmouth teacher and National Education Union president, Amanda Martin, said the announcement was something her union had been ‘campaigning on for some time’.

‘It’s a realisation that there is a divide and that all pupils need to be able to access remote learning. My understanding is that it will initially be prioritised for Year 10 pupils who are classed as vulnerable or disadvantaged,’ said Ms Martin.

Like many schools, Horndean Technology College has already ensured pupils have computer access.

Headteacher Julie Summerfield said: ‘At the moment we have received no further correspondence as to how this scheme will work. However we have already distributed our own laptops to all children who need them.’

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