Charlotte Rose assists one of her children with her school work in Milton Keynes (Picture: Reuters)
Legal action could be taken against the Government unless ministers do more to ensure children have the right technology to access their education during lockdown.
The Good Law Project says poorer children are being ‘forced’ to attend school at the height of the pandemic due to a shortage of laptops and tablets.
Students in schools and colleges in England – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – have been told to learn remotely until mid-February due to tighter restrictions.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed to MPs on Wednesday that children who do not have access to technology are seen as vulnerable and can attend school in-person during the lockdown.
Government guidance says vulnerable children may include ‘pupils who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home’ due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study.
But the Good Law Project, a legal campaign group which has previously brought cases against Uber, says ‘parents should not have to choose between the education of their child and their family’s health’.
Government guidance says vulnerable children should be strongly encouraged to attend school during the lockdown, but parents who choose to keep children out of class will not be penalised.
In response to concerns that many pupils also lack a suitable device in order to study remotely, the Department for Education (DfE) has said it will deliver 100,000 laptops to students this week, with 50,000 sent to schools for distribution on Monday alone.
Lois Copley-Jones does her English work in her bedroom on the first day of the nationwide school closures on January 05 (Picture: Getty Images Europe)
It is part of a scheme to distribute one million devices to students by the end of the academic year, which the DfE said had already seen 560,000 sent out by the end of 2020.
According to estimates from Ofcom, between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children in the UK (9%) do not have home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet, and that more than 880,000 children live in a household with only a mobile internet connection.
Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, said: ‘We all know that health outcomes for working class and BAME families are especially poor.
Children who don’t have access to digital devices are classified as vulnerable and can attend school (Picture: Getty Images Europe)
‘Forcing children of those families 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.’
The campaigners issued a pre-action letter – the step before formal proceedings begin – to Mr Williamson on Thursday. The Government has seven days to respond setting out a timeline for action.
A DfE spokesman said: ‘We are acutely aware of the additional challenges faced by disadvantaged children during this crisis and have put in place measures to mitigate the impact on them.
‘That includes buying more than one million laptops and tablets for schools and colleges to distribute, and partnering with the UK’s leading mobile network operators to provide free data to disadvantaged families which will support access to education resources.
‘We have continually assessed the impact of the national restrictions and access to education on all pupils. As part of that effort we have commissioned an independent research and assessment agency to provide a baseline assessment of catch-up needs and monitor progress over the course of the year to help us target support.’
He added: ‘Schools have been closed to most pupils during the lockdown not because they are unsafe, but because the Government is taking every possible measure to reduce cases in the community and protect the NHS.
‘They are providing pupils with online lessons in line with strengthened minimum standards of remote learning.’
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