Headteachers have expressed anger at an inability to access the promised government laptops for pupils’ remote learning.
All UK schools went into lockdown on Tuesday, but had been reassured by the government that a million laptops would be made available to those in need of help getting online.
However, when primary school heads tried to access the online ordering system for the laptops on the gov.uk website, they hit a brick wall.
A pop-up message told them it was not possible – and they should simply wait to be contacted.
Michael Tidd, headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex, described it as “very frustrating”.
He said: “We have all known since October, when a statutory duty was placed on schools to provide remote learning, that we needed to have our plans ready, but schools cannot deliver these plans if the DfE cannot provide them with the laptops they need to begin with.
“The DfE goes on television promising all sorts and telling people this is going to happen – but it is left for the schools and the parents to pick up the pieces when it doesn’t.”
He said many of his colleagues in other primary schools had experienced the same issue.
With the new lockdown underway, children need the tech & data capacity in place this week. Those children who havent got the tech should be offered a priority place in school from Monday. The alternative is that they are not able to learn which is just not acceptable.
— Anne Longfield (@annelongfield) January 5, 2021
Schools that had been forced to close before the current lockdown due to having COVID-19 cases had been able to order their laptops, but the problem now is that with all schools closed there is a backlog.
Mr Tidd said he had not been able to order his allocation until now because his school had not been closed.
“But now all schools are closed to most pupils, they all meet the criteria for laptops – and all now need them,” he said.
“They must have known that this situation could be coming.”
Ours arrived yesterday – marvellous. All 56. However – need another 150 and as a Little school we dont have an IT tech to set them up….I feel a new skill coming on
— Northern Head (@head_northern) January 5, 2021
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said the government needed to treat pupils without laptops and access to sufficient technology as a priority.
She told the BBC: “There is no doubt that remote learning and a large amount of time out of school has a very negative impact on children.
“Remote learning now needs to be a high priority for the government and we need a plan around that to ensure there is consistency in what schools are able to offer but also that tech is issued.
“We know that it hasn’t gone well in every area across the country, we know that some… will still be working on a mobile phone, sometimes it will be a crap mobile phone.
“There is also the issue of the cost of data, and I think this is something that tech companies and broadband companies really need to step up to now.”
Ms Longfield also expressed her frustration on Twitter, alongside a growing number of headteachers.
“Northern Head” bemoaned the lack of tech help in getting the school all online.
And Vic Goddard said their allocation was not nearly enough.
A number of technology providers have pointed to schemes they already have running to help disadvantaged pupils. Vodafone said its Schools Connected initiative had so far distributed more than 330,000 SIM cards to primary and secondary schools across the UK in an effort to provide free connectivity to students.
Vodafone also confirmed that it was in talks with the DfE about joining the 20GB free data-a-month scheme.
Virgin Media launched an Essential broadband service late last year which it says offers a reliable and affordable internet connection to those facing financial difficulty.
The Department for Education has been approached for comment.