Calls made for more laptops for Suffolk school pupils to catch up with learning

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Calls have been made for Hardship Fund cash to be used on laptops for school children disrupted in Covid-19 pandemic - Credit: Getty Images/Ingram Publishing

Calls have been made for Suffolk's Hardship Fund cash introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic to be used to help youngsters access laptops for their school work.

The government's Hardship Fund was launched at the start of the pandemic in March to help low income and disadvantaged families, which Suffolk Public Sector Leaders - a collective of the county's council leaders and chief executives, police leaders and health and business bosses - opted to extend for a further 12 months with an injection of £800,000 from business rates.

Suffolk County Council's opposition Labour group has called for cash from that fund to help facilitate school pupils with laptops to help with school work over the Christmas period.

Suffolk County Council Labour councillor Jack Abbott said no one should be paid less than what they needed to cover the...

Education spokesman from Suffolk County Council's opposition Labour group, Jack Abbott, requested support for vulnerable families - Credit: Archant

Jack Abbott, Labour group education spokesman, raised concerns that some disadvantaged families did not have computers for their children to continue their learning or catch up from the Covid-19 disruption.

It came amid national fears that the government had scaled back laptop distribution to schools by up to 80% in October - a stance it has now u-turned on.

But Mr Abbott said some families may have been left many months without the vital kit, and may have exacerbated disruption to children's education. He has written to Conservative county council leader Matthew Hicks requesting Hardship Fund support for those families to secure laptops or tablets.

"It's a small mercy that the government has finally u-turned on this, but I cannot tell you how frustrated and angry I am that they can't ever simply do the right thing in the first place," Mr Abbott said.

"How large will the education gap between kids who can access a laptop and those who cannot? How many days and weeks of learning have been lost because the Government can't get its act together?"

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Mr Abbott said it could have "severe consequences for this entire generation".

According to the council it has so far distributed 968 laptops, 75 tablets and 141 4G dongles to children through the Department for Education's scheme, and a further 300 laptops to disadvantaged children in year 10 educated in academies through a separate scheme.

Suffolk County Council's leader Matthew Hicks Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Suffolk County Council Conservative leader Matthew Hicks outlined support mechanisms in place

Elsewhere, it has been in dialogue with schools over the issue, while some schools and academies have loaned laptops from their own supplies to pupils.

Mr Hicks said: "It is clear that there are a number of schemes in place and schools have been proactive in developing local responses to issues as they have arisen. There is also a Digital Inclusion Network looking at the wider and longer term issue of digital inclusion across Suffolk."

Mr Hicks said schools were being kept informed of support available, while investigations were taking place as to whether Pupil Premium Grants could be used to buy laptops to loan out to pupils. For schools where pupils are having to isolate and there are problems getting enough equipment out to pupils, council support is also being offered.

He added: "We recognise that this is a very specific challenge, that as a result of Covid-19, there are a number of pupils having to self-isolate and we want to work with schools to help pupils and students to continue with their learning during that self-isolation. We will keep this matter under review."