School heads reveal number of laptops for ‘digitally disadvantaged’ may not be sufficient for home learning emergencies

Schools in Cambridgeshire claim their allocation of laptops for remote learning during the pandemic is “insufficient,” the county council has said, as the number of devices offered by the government dropped by a third.

A county council report says the area’s-maintained schools – those funded and overseen by the council, which excludes Peterborough – were originally allocated 1,589 laptops for use by “digitally disadvantaged” pupils should the pandemic prevent them from attending school.

The report says that following a government review the county’s allocation has dropped to 419.

The government has been providing additional digital devices to schools during the pandemic for use if children need to self-isolate, or if a school needs to close.

The county council said feedback from headteachers is that the area’s downgraded allocation is “insufficient,” and the council is encouraging schools to appeal.

The report says the council is “trying to establish the rationale behind this change especially in light of the high deprivation in parts of Cambridgeshire”.

A spokesperson for the county council said: “Schools have made an initial assessment of their needs for ICT equipment in the case that children cannot access if schools were to close due to Covid. The feedback from heads following the change in allocation is that the new allocations are insufficient.

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“Our schools remain fully committed to providing a remote learning offer to all children who are unable to be in school and will continue to ensure laptops are offered to pupils with the greatest need. There is a process to appeal these allocations and we are encouraging schools to follow this process. Without the government scheme, schools will look to share existing resources or source other equipment.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The scale and speed at which the department has delivered laptops and tablets to children who need them over the past six months is unprecedented, with deliveries now set to total over half a million by Christmas.

“In the context of significant global demand, we have updated our allocation process to align orders more accurately with the number of students’ schools typically have self-isolating, ensuring as many children as possible benefit from receiving a device this term.

“We have already purchased an additional 96,000 devices and continue to work closely with our suppliers to ensure delivery despite the increased global demand.”

The DfE (Department for Education) said that schools that believe they have a strong need for additional devices should contact the department.

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