A Derbyshire school teacher is furious at the wait for laptops from central government for vulnerable pupils.
He said that teachers have been hand-delivering work to vulnerable pupils’ homes, at the same time as dropping off food, to allow students who do not have a mobile, laptop or internet access to continue learning during lockdown.
The teacher, who did not want to be named, works at a Derbyshire secondary school where teachers have prepared work on memory sticks and sourced and reconditioned old laptops out of their own pockets – while waiting on the government’s promised devices for vulnerable pupils.
He said the school was still waiting on the promised laptops from central government but that now is still far too late, with months of missed or reduced education.
The Department for Education announced on April 19 that councils would be given laptops and tablets for “disadvantaged families, children and young adults who do not currently have access to them through another source, such as their school”.
Derbyshire County Council received its 2,558 laptops 59 days later on June 17 – two months later – with a negligible amount of the formal school year remaining and talk of catch-up programmes throughout the summer holidays.
It received 450 4G dongles, providing internet access, on June 10.
The secondary school teacher told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “One of my students is keen to do the work and is in the highest risk category when we talk about poverty risk but has no internet access and he has no laptop.
“He was on the list of students that were meant to get the laptops. We don’t have enough laptops in school due to funding cuts over the last 10 years and they are out of date.
“Staff have donated laptops and some parents have donated laptops which we have reconditioned and sent out ourselves to the pupils.
“Because they have no internet access we are dropping off work on memory sticks and have encrypted them for safety – we have bypassed the government.
“These children are out there, they are just dropping off the end of the cliff and not being supported.
“We have dozens of pupils that need these laptops.
“The internet is patchy in some areas of Derbyshire so that provides its own issues.
“We are doing as much as we can to catch as many of these kids as possible and I just feel let down by the government.
“It is really frustrating. We are trying our best to do what we can for these children and the government has made promises to give us these laptops and they haven’t really come through.
“We have had the government trying to guilt trip us into going back to work to support these vulnerable children and we are the ones that know these children – we are giving up our own time and own resources – to help them.
“The kid I told you about before, he was really asking for the work and is sitting there wanting to do schoolwork but does not have the ability to do it, not because the school hasn’t tried but because the government has broken its promise. It is infuriating.
“By the time they get the laptops it is a case of closing the stable door when the horse has bolted because those kids needed those laptops at the very start.
“I’ve started to see a drop off of kids accessing the online work and them getting fatigued and we need more of a focus on wellbeing.
“It’s too late now and it is about to be the summer holidays. The time that we needed them was the time we were setting the work over the last three months.
“When we needed it, it was not there.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We know being in school is vital for children’s education and wellbeing, which is why we are working towards all children returning to the classroom from September.
“The government has been clear in its commitment no child should fall behind as a result of coronavirus, which is why we have provided over £100 million to support children to learn at home, including providing devices for eligible children that need them.
“We have also launched a £1 billion Covid catch up fund to directly tackle the impact of lost teaching time as a result of the pandemic, which headteachers and school leaders have the flexibility to decide how to spend in the best interests of their students.”
DfE said it is prioritising the delivery of devices to the most vulnerable children first.
This includes children with a social worker and care leavers – who need access to online social services.
It says this will be followed by providing laptops and tablets for disadvantaged Year 10 children who do not have access to a device through other means.