Reflecting on the National Delay in Digital Device Distribution

As featured in Fenews:

Government was slow to respond to needs

Between March 2020 and March 2021, the government handed out 1.4 million technological devices to pupils in England.

However, only 27% of those devices were provided in the first six months of the pandemic.

For Nayeer Afzal, Programme Director at Learning Hive, these figures show the government did not respond quickly enough to help the most disadvantaged pupils.

As a result, many were put in a position that limited their learning and are still facing the consequences today:

Accessing resources was difficult

Many disadvantaged pupils were not given the necessary tools to help them learn effectively during lockdowns.

Only 27% of almost 1.4 million technological devices given to pupils in England between March 2020 and March 2021 were provided within the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request conducted by Learning Hive, a provider of after-school childcare provision.

For Learning Hive, this data shows that initial government action to get devices to disadvantaged children was too slow, leaving many pupils lagging behind on their learning and struggling to catch up with their more affluent peers. While the government did provide just over one million technological devices between September 2020 and March 2021, this only came after major public backlash and with the damage already done.

Additional research by Teach First has shown that as many as four out of five schools with the poorest pupils did not have enough devices and internet access to ensure all pupils could keep learning if they had to self-isolate.

It took a long time to build momentum

Early in the pandemic, it quickly became clear that there were pupils who had minimal or no access to the digital technologies needed to make home learning a success. While parents in more affluent families could provide a sufficient number of internet-connected devices for their children,  others from poorer backgrounds were not so lucky.

This situation demanded swift action from the government to prevent the attainment gap getting wider, and ensure no child missed out. However, From the results seen in the FOI, it is clear that it took a long time to build any momentum in this respect.

In some cases where devices were not received early in the pandemic, one laptop or device had to be shared between an entire family, leaving the children with limited access to learning until they were provided with the correct resources. For some, this meant waiting months until the issue was resolved.”

In response to this, many local charities, community groups and tuition providers stepped in to help, providing the necessary technology such as laptops and tablets to help pupils continue learning with minimal interruption. While this rapid mobilisation of local groups is a positive, it does provide further evidence of how the government failed to act quickly enough early last year.

Testament to charities, institutions and local communities

At Learning Hive we did our best to play our part and with the help of the Barnardo’s See, Hear, Respond Programme, in which Learning Hive were a core partner, we provided a total of 330 laptops to pupils who needed them most. Many of our partners and colleagues did the same, which is testament to the bonds that charities and other institutions maintain with their local communities. Despite these efforts, the slow response by the government has meant that many children slipped through the cracks.

A fine balance

Striking a fine balance between making up for lost learning while alleviating the burden on hard-working teachers

With children and teenagers back in the classroom, the priority now is to ensure that steps are taken to help these pupils catch up on lost learning. This will require a broad, comprehensive approach encompassing a range of initiatives, which need to strike a fine balance between making up for lost learning while alleviating the burden on hard-working teachers. Again, this is where we see local communities, charities and external providers playing a part in the months to come.

Nayeer Afzal, Programme Director at Learning Hive

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