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Sutton Trust research finds the digital divide has not improved since March

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@SuttonTrust research finds the digital divide has not improved since March – two-thirds of heads report sourcing devices for pupils themselves while waiting for government support

The Sutton Trust has just published a briefing on the digital divide – including access to devices and the internet – in schools in England. It includes new Teacher Tapp polling of 6,000 teachers, conducted between the 7th and the 10th January 2021.

The new research finds that:

Access to devices and the internet

  • Just  10% of teachers overall report that all their students have adequate access to a device for remote learning. A similar proportion say that all of their pupils have access to the internet.
  • There are substantial differences between the state and private sector, with just 5% of teachers in state schools reporting that all their students have a device, compared to 54% at private schools.
  • 32% of teachers in the most deprived schools report more than 1 in 5 of their pupils lack devices, compared to just 5% at the most affluent state schools and 3% at private schools.
  • The situation has not improved substantially since March last year.

Supply of devices

  • Just 18% of heads say they have been able to supply devices to all of their pupils who have needed one. A further third say they have been able to address most of the need.
  • In the most deprived schools, 56% of leaders report they haven’t been able to help half or more of their pupils who needed devices. This compares with 39% at the most affluent state schools.
  • As the government roll-out of laptops stalled in the autumn, many schools have used their own resources to address the issue. Two thirds (66%) of senior leaders in state schools reported needing to source IT equipment for disadvantaged pupils themselves while waiting for government support.

Comparisons with March 2020 are taken from the Sutton Trust’s ‘School Shutdown’ Impact Brief, published in April 2020, based on Teacher Tapp data collected at the beginning of the school closures in March 2020.

Commenting on the findings, Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said:

“As soon as schools were closed back in March, it was clear that the digital divide was going to have a huge impact on poorer pupils.

“Those without access to a laptop and a good internet connection have already lost valuable learning, which could damage their chances in life for years to come. Quite simply, it would be a tragedy if we let this happen again.   

“But as our new research shows, the picture has barely changed. Despite the heroic efforts of teachers, many pupils still face being left behind because of digital poverty. The government has made some positive steps but they must go further and faster to ensure that every child has the resources they need to learn while schools remain closed.”

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