Cross-party calls for Government to provide internet access and devices to children on free school meals

john rambo

MPs are calling on the Government to provide free devices to children eligible for free school meals – Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images/Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images The Government is facing cross-party calls to close the “digital divide”, as a new Bill seeks to ensure that all children eligible for free school meals have […]

MPs are calling on the Government to provide free devices to children eligible for free school meals - Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images/Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
MPs are calling on the Government to provide free devices to children eligible for free school meals – Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images/Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

The Government is facing cross-party calls to close the “digital divide”, as a new Bill seeks to ensure that all children eligible for free school meals have internet access and electronic devices at home.

The legislation – backed by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, four former education secretaries and the chair of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon – will be presented to Parliament by Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh on Monday.

Back in April the Government committed to providing disadvantaged pupils in Year 10 with laptops, tablets and 4G wireless routers but many schools have complained they are yet to receive ordered devices.

Backers of the new proposal say the Bill would make an “immediate, tangible difference to some of the most vulnerable families in our society”.

Education Committee chair Robert Halfon told The Telegraph: “We have several hundred thousand children who don’t have a proper laptop, desktop or computer at home.

“We know that two thirds of kids, according to the Sutton Trust, are not accessing online education.

“Not only are we heading towards a potential ice age in educational learning given the lockdown, but we also have a huge digital divide between the haves and have nots.

“The laptop scheme is a great initiative but it only goes to Year 10 and children in care. We need a proper system to get our kids back online.”

Other supporters of the Bill include former education secretaries Alan Johnson, Ed Balls, Lord Blunkett and Baroness Morris.

The incumbent, Gavin Williamson, is expected to this week set out new Government proposals for children who have missed education because of coronavirus.

Boris Johnson has promised a “massive catch-up operation” for children in England who have missed out on months of schooling.

The catch-up scheme is expected to include vouchers for online tutoring through existing organisations and the use of volunteers to offer classes and activities.

A Number 10 source said Mr Johnson was “acutely aware” of the impact the extended closure was having on pupils and was working with the Education Secretary on the “catch-up” plan.

Primary schools in England, which closed following the coronavirus lockdown in March, are currently opening to pupils in reception, Year One and Year Six.

However, ministers will this week reaffirm schools can begin to bring back children from other year groups provided they have the capacity to do so safely.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We will do whatever we can to make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus.

“The Government has already committed over £100 million to support children to learn at home, and pupil premium funding at the highest ever rate per pupil continues to be paid to help schools support their disadvantaged pupils.

“Many schools have begun welcoming children from Reception, Year One and Year Six back to the classroom as part of a phased and cautious approach. We are also working with a range of partner organisations to deliver the support that is needed for all pupils who have been affected by school closures.”

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