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300,000 laptops and tablets made available for disadvantaged children

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The government has said it will provide 300,000 laptops and tablets to help disadvantaged children continue their education from home through the ongoing national lockdown.

The programme from the Department for Education (DfE) follows calls from three former education secretaries, as well as ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair to furnish children “on the wrong side of the digital divide” with the equipment they need.

The DfE said its new commitment will bring the total number of laptops and tablets for disadvantaged young people up to 1.3 million. Around 700,000 laptops and tablets have been delivered to schools to date, with over 100,000 delivered last week alone.

The UK’s second full national lockdown, which includes school closures, was announced the day after term began for most pupils. Government health experts have not given a final date for when the lockdown will end.

According to estimates from Ofcom, 1.14 to 1.78 million children in the UK (nine per cent) do not have home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet.

The DfE said it had allocated devices with the aim of prioritising those most in need although schools will be able to order more should they require them.

“I know just how difficult the past year has been for parents and teachers, now more so than ever. I want nothing more than for every child to be in the classroom with their friends and teachers, but with that not possible we are doing everything in our power to support schools with high-quality remote education,” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said. “These additional devices, on top of the 100,000 delivered last week, add to the significant support we are making available to help schools deliver high-quality online learning, as we know they have been doing.”

The government is expected to publish a remote education framework in the near future following threats of legal action from campaigners.

The Good Law Project has accused ministers of “forcing” poorer children and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) pupils to attend school at the height of the pandemic due to a shortage of digital devices.

Meanwhile, Virgin Media has said it will offer households access to a selection of factual pay TV channels and mobile data for free in a bid to help families during lockdown. It committed to offering families access to 20GB of mobile data per month to help towards online lessons and remote learning, as part of a DfE scheme.

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