Anger as Government denies South Tyneside schools hundreds of laptops and tablets for disadvantaged children
Headteachers in the area were told by the Department of Education (DfE) just before half term that they would only receive around a fifth of the devices promised as part of a Number 10 scheme to support online learning and ‘level up’ a growing nationwide education gap.
The initiative was announced earlier this year by Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, to ‘enable all children to continue learning now and in the years to come’ and to ‘take some of the pressure off both parents and schools by providing more materials for them to use.’
However, his department emailed schools across South Tyneside last month to inform them the second batch of laptops, tablets and other devices to enable distance learning during the pandemic would be slashed by around 80 per cent.
There were 841 laptops and tablets delivered to South Tyneside schools as part of the first phase of the scheme, the rollout of which came under criticism after large numbers of the devices were reportedly delivered late.
As part of the Government’s second delivery tranche, 974 devices were originally set aside to be allocated to schools in the area. Academies were also allocated a separate number of devices.
Following the DfE’s decision last month, however, just 193 devices will be sent to 27 different schools with disadvantaged pupils in the borough.
South Tyneside MPs lambasted the Government’s moves to row back on its springtime pledge, calling the decision ‘an outrage’.
More than a quarter of children in South Tyneside are thought to be living in relative poverty.
Kate Osborne, the parliamentary representative for Jarrow, said: “It is an absolute outrage that on the same week the Government refused to fund free school meals over the half term holidays for the most disadvantaged children in our community, they then took the decision to cut the allocation of laptops to schools on the last day of half term too.
“This Government is failing our children at a time when they should be doing everything they can to protect the education of our children.”
South Shields MP, Emma Lowell-Buck, told The Gazette: “We had to fight the DfE originally to get them to even make this offer.
"Then, when they eventually agreed to it, the first tranche was delivered late, way after full lockdown.”
She added: "We’ve seen one of the highest increases nationwide across the last four years.
“We were already falling behind before this. So all this is going to do is exacerbate the divide.”
A DfE 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 more accurately align orders with the number of students schools typically have self-isolating, ensuring as many children as possible benefit from receiving a device this term.”