Rae Tooth is chief executive of Villiers Park Educational Trust

During the first lockdown, the attainment gap between young people from less advantaged backgrounds and their peers widened; preventing this from happening further during the current lockdown by ensuring that high-quality online learning is available to all must be a national priority.

Digital poverty is a big issue for many families

Over 700,000 children do not have access to a laptop or tablet which would allow them to learn at home. In many other, homes a single device is being shared between working, low-paid parents as well as between siblings.

Teachers found that, during the first national lockdown, a lower proportion of disadvantaged students engaged with their learning compared to their peers.

We must remove these obstacles to learning and school engagement.

The government has a duty to prevent digital poverty leaving young people cut off from education

When it comes to working with students from less advantaged backgrounds, Villiers Park has a strong track record of supporting young people and encouraging them to achieve their potential. We work with hundreds of students from across England each year.

In the first lockdown last March, one in five of our students did not have any internet access or lived in a household with only one mobile phone. For many of them, the same is true today, making the next few weeks a greater challenge than it should be.

Working alongside our partner schools and colleges, we are providing devices to students who would otherwise not have access to online learning, but our funds are limited. 

Remote education is also hampered by a lack of effective digital pedagogy

Schools are working wonders to rapidly draw up plans to support their students in the weeks ahead. But there is more to learning online than providing links for video lessons, and contingency plans drawn up in haste do not address the underlying barriers to learning faced by the most marginalised young people.

Villiers Park’s Future Leaders programme is designed to support them in developing self-efficacy and agency in their own futures and equip them with the skills, experiences and motivation they need to become active learners, and ultimately leaders in their chosen field.

The coaching model we use draws on the latest evidence-informed approaches, helping Future Leaders to explore their values and purpose to understand what is most important to them and what they want to achieve. It will help them assume responsibility for their own outcomes and develop their own solutions to the challenges they face.

Given the challenges posed by the pandemic, schools, colleges and families are doing a remarkable job of delivering education in trying circumstances. But the young people already at risk of being left behind are even more vulnerable now.

Villiers Park can help them to work towards a more positive future – but we can’t do it alone. If the government is genuine in its commitment to ‘levelling up’, now is the time to prove it.

Rae Tooth is CEO of Villiers Park Educational Trust, a social mobility charity

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