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Kids who don’t have laptops or can’t work from home can go to school, education secretary says

Children without digital devices are allowed to go to school

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Number 10/Flickr & Annie Spratt/Unsplash

Those children who don’t have a laptop or a space to work from at home are able to go into school throughout lockdown instead, Gavin Williamson says. 

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has explained that children who don’t have access to digital devices are allowed to go to school to learn from classrooms alongside the children of key workers.

Children who don’t have access to a laptop or a place to study are now described as ‘vulnerable’. It is estimated around one million more kids will be included in the new, wider category – around 9% of children in the UK.

However, MP’s have blasted this as ‘poor communication’ and said they weren’t aware of the rule.

Wes Streeting MP, Shadow Schools Minister, told The Sun: “The government’s support for pupils and guidance for parents is a mess. Ministers have had over nine months to get laptops to kids, but thousands are still unable to access online learning.

“A discretionary approach which passes responsibility onto individual schools is simply not good enough. The government must urgently get every child online with the laptops, internet access and support they need.”

Education Committee Chair Robert Halfon has welcomed the news of more children now being able to attend school. He said: “It’s really good news for hard working parents that children who have no remote access will now be able to attend school.

“This will make a huge difference and mean that these children will not be forgotten or left behind once again.”

Schools have been forced to close following the lockdown of the country announced by Boris Johnson on Monday. This news now means thousands more parents won’t have to worry about juggling home-schooling while working. 

Boris Johnson hopes that schools will reopen after February half term, however the decision won’t be made until nearer the time. 

Mr Halfon raised concerns in the House of Commons of a digital divide that some children will suffer from, with 880,000 children living in a household with only a mobile internet connection.

He explained: “I strongly welcome the Government’s laptop scheme but we know that there still will be, possibly, hundreds of thousands of people on the wrong side of the digital divide.

“Can (he) confirm that those students who just don’t have internet connection or computers at home will be able to go to school alongside children of critical workers?”

Mobile provider, Three UK said it will provide unlimited data upgrades to disadvantaged children in England until the end of the school year in July. 

Teach First, an educational charity explains that the digital divide in England hits poorer students hardest, and suggests that four out of five schools with the poorest pupils do not have enough devices to ensure all those self-isolating can keep learning. 

Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First, said: “Access to high-quality education has always been unequal. But whilst trying to learn from home, the gap between children from wealthier homes and their poorer peers is greatly exacerbated.”

More than 560,000 devices were delivered last year to schools and councils however some are still struggling.

The Guardian reports that St Ambrose Barlow Roman Catholic high school in Salford has only received 75 laptops for a school with more than 1,000 pupils. At least 40% of students at this school do not have their own device. 

Head teacher Ben Davis said: “Very few of our pupils have no devices at all at home, but you often have families of five with one laptop and everybody needing to get online.”

Newman Roman Catholic college in Oldham added that the school received 138 laptops from the central government scheme this week, adding to the 34 they received last year – nine months after making the original request for 237.

The Department for Education posted a photo on Instagram of a warehouse containing some of the 50,000 laptops and tablets that are set to be delivered to schools this week. 

Labour MP, Siobhain McDonagh, who coordinated a letter in which MPs, unions and charities called on Boris Johnson to take action to help ‘children on the wrong side of the digital divide’, said of the photo: “It beggars belief that the government would celebrate distributing devices almost a year after schools first closed and to just a fraction of the pupils who need them.”

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Schools will not reopen after February half-term, Boris Johnson confirms

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Schools will not open after February half-term, the prime minister has confirmed.

Boris Johnson has announced that schools will not reopen after February half-term, but has promised a route out of lockdown.

The prime minister says ‘we don’t have enough data to judge the full effect of vaccines in blocking transmission’.

Adding: “What we do know is that we remain in a perilous situation.”

He goes onto explain that the government will be in a better position to chart a course out of lockdown by mid-February. 

A review and plan for taking the country out of lockdown can be expected when parliament is back from recess in the week commencing February 22nd. 

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Mr Johnson explained that the ‘first sign of normality’ will be schools returning, however, it will not be possible for this to happen immediately after the February half-term. 

He explains that if the vaccine target is hit by mid-February, and those groups developed immunity from the virus around March 8th, schools could reopen.

The prime minister acknowledged the ‘huge impact’ of school closures and pledged £300m of new money for tutoring and extra initiatives for summer schools.

Finishing his speech, the PM says: “As we inoculate more people hour by hour, this is the time to hold our nerve in the endgame in the battle against the virus.

“Our goal now must be to bide the extra weeks we need to immunise the most vulnerable and get this virus under control, so that together we can defeat this most wretched disease.”

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Teacher dies on her 25th birthday after contracting coronavirus

‘Claudia was very special, kind, caring and a dedicated teacher’

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Recently-qualified teacher Claudia Marsh died with coronavirus on her 25th birthday.

Claudia’s death has been described as ‘sudden and unexpected’ by the charity that helped her recover from an eating disorder a few years ago.

She had gone on to volunteer at the organisation, becoming a ‘beacon of hope’ for others. 

Her mother, Tina Marsh, said she was ‘very proud’ and ‘blown away’ by the number of tributes after Claudia died at Liverpool’s Royal University Hospital on Wednesday.

Posting on Facebook, Ms Marsh said Claudia was a ‘beautiful daughter and incredible sister’ who was selfless with her work at the Merseyside-based charities, Talking Eating Disorders (TEDS) and The Whitechapel Centre.

Her mother said: “She loved giving back to people less fortunate than herself.”

Founder of TEDS and family friend Leigh Best described the death as ‘heartbreaking’, adding: “Claudia was very special, kind, caring and a dedicated teacher.

“She supported countless families across the UK. Claudia made her own little packs to give out to others with eating disorders with positive affirmations.

“She was full of positivity, kindness and hope, and had a smile that would brighten up the whole room.”

The Whitechapel Centre also released a statement where they said staff were ‘devastated’, adding she would leave behind a ‘legacy of care, dedication and enthusiasm’.

Throughout the pandemic Claudia spent her time providing food and clothing to those who need it, the centre said, adding: “Claudia always put others before herself and her memory will live on through the impact and contribution she made to our organisation.

“She was instrumental in bringing together our volunteer community.”

Her mother has set up an online fundraising page for the two charities which has already raised £16,495.

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Opening schools is a national priority, government says

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Schools Minister, Nick Gibb told the commons that schools in England will be reopen ‘as soon as possible’. 

Responding to an urgent question brought by Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, Mr Gibb said the government would ‘prioritise the reopening of schools as we begin the process of lifting lockdown restrictions’.

Ms Green went onto say that the government had ‘failed  to give parents, children and staff the credible plan they deserve’.

Adding: “We simply don’t know what the government’s plan is for school reopening – other than what we read in the newspapers,”

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“In recent days, we’ve had reports that the prime minister wants pupils back before Easter, the health secretary saying he wants pupils back after Easter, Public Health England saying overnight the primary schools are already safe to reopen – so which is it?

“What is the plan for full reopening? The schools minister mentioned some metrics but was vague about the required performance against them – can he give us some more clarity?”

Mr Gibb said it was the government’s ‘strong desire to reopen all schools, colleges and universities as soon as possible’.

“We are acutely aware of the damage to children’s education and development – particularly to the most disadvantaged pupils by being away from school and of the increased burdens placed on parents.

He added that the ‘government has been clear that education is a national priority’ throughout the pandemic.

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“We had worked hard to keep all schools, colleges and universities fully open but scientific advice we received in January meant we had no choice but to close schools and colleges to all but vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.

“And to restrict in-person teaching in university to those studying to be future critical workers.” He said. 

He added that there will be an announcement in the next few days as remote learning is no substitute for face-to-face learning. 

“We want to give two weeks’ notice so parents can make arrangement for the care of their children and we will be making announcements in the next few days.” He said.

Chairman of the education select committee, Robert Halfon, told Mr Gibb that parents and children were suffering.

“We need to get our schools open again sooner rather than later,” he said.

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