This week, children across the UK return to school following months of learning at home.
When schools first closed their doors back in March 2020, there was no plan in place for the hundreds of thousands of children who do not have access to a laptop or internet at home. Good Law Project has been pushing the Department for Education to address this failure ever since.
- In April, nine days after we first wrote to Gavin Williamson threatening legal action, Government committed to providing 200,000 laptops to ensure that the most disadvantaged children didn’t fall behind in their education. This was the first time Government had accepted responsibility for addressing this issue – and this was a significant breakthrough. By the end of the autumn term, Government said it had provided 560,000 laptops and promised to order a further 440,000.
- When schools shut their doors again in January 2021, however, it was clear that Government’s response remained insufficient. In particular, delivery of the promised laptops was too slow. Instead of remedying the issue, the Secretary of State for Education issued guidance that children without access to a laptop, tablet or internet “should attend school or college”. We were appalled at the suggestion that poorer kids should be forced to go to school and put their families and communities in danger, simply because it is cheaper and more convenient for Government. We again took legal action and, just five days later, Government committed to ordering 300,000 more laptops.
- In January 2021, we also raised concerns about the continued lack of remote provision for disadvantaged children in Years 1 and 2 during the period when schools were closed. The Department for Education has since committed to providing £18m of ‘catch-up’ funding to support language development in the early years.
Although we are proud to have held the Secretary of State’s feet to the fire on this issue, especially in the early days of the pandemic when it seemed as if Government had no plans to support children without access to online learning, we did not achieve all that we set out to. Over the last year, too many of the most disadvantaged children across the country were left to struggle at home without the equipment they need to access their education. Now, as children return to the classroom, we will continue to monitor Government’s approach to ensuring these children have the support they need to thrive.
The last twelve months have been enormously difficult for parents, carers, teachers and children. But this case has shown that litigation can act as a powerful tool to help those worst affected by this crisis.
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