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Latest 09 January 2021

Government is putting its own reputation ahead of the health of poor families

We know that poorer and BAME families are exposed to higher Covid-19 risks. But now, because of Government’s continuing failure to arrange for the children of those families to be educated online, they will be exposed to further health risks. Their children will have to attend school but wealthier families, who can afford devices and broadband access for their children, can remain at home.

Back in April last year, we launched legal action to force Government to ensure all children could learn online. We pulled that litigation because Government gave us assurances it would provide laptops and wireless routers to disadvantaged children. However, 10 months later, hundreds of thousands of children are still without. The Education Secretary says he’s ordered a million laptops – of which only 560,000 have been delivered. And, even when the remainder are delivered, there will still be a significant shortfall – Ofcom estimates there are 1.7m children without devices and 880,000 of them live in a home with only a mobile internet connection.

To cover his own failure, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson issued new Guidance saying children who cannot learn remotely “due to a lack of devices…should attend school or college”.

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It might be cheaper and more convenient for the Education Secretary, but by forcing poorer kids to go into schools he is putting families and communities in danger. Parents should not have to choose between the education of their child and their family’s health. We have launched Judicial Review proceedings to challenge the following ongoing Government failures:

  1. to ensure adequate devices are provided to those who require them, in a timely fashion.
  2. to set out clearly in its new Guidance that bringing children into school during the current period purely because of a lack of devices (or data) should be a last resort, and make clear that the cause (lack of device/ data) should be tackled first.
  3. to ensure that educational websites, including the taxpayer-funded Oak National Academy, are exempt from data charges; and to address data charges in relation to home learning for school children more generally.
  4. to conduct adequate assessments of the impact of school closures upon disadvantaged children, and to put in place resulting contingency plans and mitigating measures.

Good Law Project has instructed Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Adam Wagner and Dan Rosenberg of Simpson Millar all of whom will work at considerably below market rates.

Thanks to this Government’s ineptitude, the children who were most likely to have lost out on education in previous lockdowns are once again finding themselves slipping further behind their classmates. According to the National Federation for Educational Research, the average learning lost by all pupils in the first lockdown was three months, but at schools in the most deprived areas the majority of pupils lost four months or more. The impact will last for years.

We all saw the second wave coming – and we cannot understand this continued failure to make provision for the most vulnerable. Forcing working class and BAME kids to go into school at the height of a pandemic because Government can’t or won’t provide devices for them looks suspiciously like sacrificing their health to protect its reputation.

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