#DigitalPoverty - @TeachFirst calls on large businesses and government to close the digital divide 

Four out of five (84%)* schools with the poorest pupils do not have enough devices and internet access to ensure all self-isolating pupils can keep learning, a new survey from the education charity Teach First has revealed.

This compares to two thirds (66%) of schools with the most affluent pupils, showing that while all schools continue to face significant digital barriers - it is the poorest pupils’ education that will suffer the most if self-isolating.  

Evidence already shows the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their richer peers widened during the first lockdown.[1] The charity believes that, with over half of secondary schools having sent pupils home to self-isolate since September, the prospect of pupils falling behind further remains a serious concern.  

The lack of devices and internet for some pupils means schools are having to dip into alternative budgets.

Of the teachers who knew where money was coming from to pay for the gap in digital access for pupils:  

  • More than a quarter (27%) of all state schools are using their reserve budgets – five times more likely than private schools (5%)
  • Two in five (41%) schools with the poorest pupils are using their pupil premium
  • The most affluent schools are three times as likely (29%) as the poorest (10%) to use donations, for example by businesses and Parent Teacher Associations

Using budget that hasn’t been specifically allocated for this urgent problem means almost half of state schools (47%) are going to have to reduce spending in other areas.  Of the schools which knew what they were going to cut:

  • Almost a quarter (23%) of the schools with the poorest pupils will have to reduce spending on school trips to pay for devices and internet – nearly twice as likely as the most affluent (12%)
  • A fifth of all state schools (21%) will have to reduce spending on textbooks and libraries, with a similar figure for school maintenance and upkeep (20%)
  • 15% of state schools will have to reduce spending on Continuing Professional Development for teachers

While the government has already delivered over 300,000 devices to schools[2], Teach First are asking the government to increase the number of devices they are providing to pupils and schools in need. However, given the scale of this national issue, Teach First is also calling on large businesses to step up and work with charities and schools by donating the much-needed technology. 

Teach First is working with large businesses in response to the pandemic such as IG Group, Amazon, BNP Paribas, Drax, Vodafone and DHL UK Foundation. This has included the distribution of over 1,800 devices and dongles to pupils and schools in disadvantaged communities. 

Russell Hobby 100x100Russell Hobby, Teach First CEO, said:

“This is a stark reminder of the significant challenges faced by schools serving disadvantaged communities. It’s not right that some children will fall further behind at school simply because their families can’t afford laptops and internet access.

“All schools are doing their best in a challenging environment, yet the choices they face to make ends meet are deeply worrying – particularly if they have to cut vital areas of education to keep up with this urgent problem.

“During this pandemic we all have a role to play and we’re calling on government and big businesses to help schools bridge this divide so that, despite the pandemic, we can unlock the potential in all children, not just some.”

Kathryn Hobbs, Headteacher of David Nieper Academy in Derbyshire, said:

“The scale of online device needs that this pandemic has brought is enormous. At our school we soon learnt pupils were using smartphones to complete homework rather than accessing the school’s online work platform on a suitable device. When it comes to schoolwork, a smartphone just isn’t sufficient – but the hard truth is that some families simply can’t afford the most appropriate IT equipment.

“Alongside the support from government, we are looking into our own budgets to ensure that our pupils have access to laptops and connectivity when learning in and out of school. For schools to continue to support all of their pupils throughout this pandemic, we need more access to IT devices, but looking into our budget there’s not enough money to meet the need. We would welcome additional help from businesses via Teach First so that nothing holds pupils back from their fundamental right to learn.”

Learning Under Lockdown

When primary students return they will not be heading back into a normal summer half-term, since the planned curriculum has been considerably disrupted – especially in the most disadvantaged schools.

Not only is learning disrupted, but the amount of work completed by students varies by deprivation level – and has got worse over time. The graph below compares the start of May 2020 (left) with the final week before half-term (right). This continues a trend from across the lockdown period of waning enthusiasm for work, particularly in the most deprived areas.

100,000 college students still without suitable device for learning 

Latest data from colleges reveals that as many as 100,000 students may be missing out on learning because they do not have a suitable device to learn on or home access to the internet. College students have been excluded from government funded laptops for under-16s and today’s figures confirm that the lost learning gap will only widen if post-16 students do not have equal access to the equipment they need to catch up. 

It comes as over two thirds (67%) of colleges said that students’ lost learning is a concern. The country’s poorest and most disadvantaged young people are at risk of falling further behind as a mixture of blended learning (online lessons and face-to-face) becomes the norm for many courses. The lack of access to basic technology also increases the risks of young people being even more cut off from friends, family and teachers. 

The government’s 16 to 19 bursary fund helped between April and July to ease the pressures, but it did not support the numbers in need. AoC is calling for a renewed support package for all disadvantaged students so that they can succeed this year through the blended learning which is now increasingly normal. 

david hughes 100 x100Chief Executive of Association of Colleges, David Hughes said: 

“The legacy of lockdown must not be a generation of learners who have lost out because of digital poverty. Without immediate support for colleges to allow students to get the devices and access they need; we risk stunting the life chances of young people for years to come. 

"Further education is the vehicle to better life chances and opportunities and future life chances, blended learning looks like a solid feature of that future Digital poverty must not be a barrier. The government must do more to ensure that every young person can engage effectively with their learning online no matter their socioeconomic status.”

*All data included in the press release excludes Don’t Knows and Cannot Answers.

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