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Disadvantaged children face equipment hurdle to access online lessons, study finds

Online tuition can support disadvantaged pupils to learn remotely but access to equipment and reliable internet connections are key barriers to participation, a study has shown.

The pilot from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) was carried out to assess the effectiveness of supporting the learning of pupils from low-income backgrounds during and after partial school closures in the first national lockdown.

It covered 1,425 learners from 65 schools, with 9,800 tuition sessions delivered. The vast majority of students were studying for their GCSEs in Years 10 and 11 (ages 14-16).

Most students received weekly one-to-one sessions in maths, English or science and the majority of students receiving tuition were eligible for pupil premium funding.

It found that despite the best efforts of schools, almost half (48 per cent) reported lack of equipment as a challenge.

The study also showed that pupils enjoyed the tuition and there were perceived benefits for learning, with improvements in learners’ confidence and engagement with education.

The overwhelming majority (87 per cent) of those included in the study said they would like to carry on with their tutoring and three-quarters (76 per cent) said they enjoyed learning more than they did before.

But the report also found that a significant time investment was needed to build effective relationships between schools and families to support engagement in the scheme.

Sir Peter Lampl, EEF chairman, said: “High-quality tuition has a crucial role to play in supporting children and young people’s learning after this year of disruption.

“While we have a wealth of evidence telling us how best to deliver face-to-face tuition, we know less about how to make online tutoring as effective as possible.

“Today’s report gives us valuable insights into the challenges and barriers and will go some way to ensuring online tutoring has the biggest possible impact on those pupils who need it the most.”

Professor Becky Francis, EEF CEO, said: “This report can give us confidence that online tuition is an effective tool to support students and teachers during those times when pupils are unable to attend school in the normal way.

“It is encouraging to see that not only is it possible to reach high numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but that they also enjoy the opportunity to continue their learning.

“The report also highlights challenges, in particular the lack of equipment or good internet connection, which meant too many students were unable to access online learning. Bridging that ‘digital divide’ must remain a national priority.”

The latest figures show that 424,428 devices have been sent to councils, academy trusts, schools and colleges across England since the lockdown began on 4 January.

A total of 986,849 laptops and tablets have been delivered or dispatched to support pupils to access remote education since the start of the scheme.

According to data released by the UN at the start of the pandemic, millions of children in Asia are at risk from falling behind in their studies due to school closures, with unequal access to the internet ‘hurting’ poorer children the most. 

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