Tony Blair backs demand for thousands more iPads and laptops for deprived children if schools close

Former prime minister Tony Blair today backed demands for laptops and tablets to be given to hundreds of thousands of children who face their schools closing in the face of a surge in Covid infections. 

He was joined by three former education secretaries in urging Boris Johnson to help the poorest children who face an education gap if there is a new total lockdown because they lack equipment or even a basic internet connection. 

Charities, unions and current MPs have also co-signed a letter with ex-Cabinet ministers including Lord Blunkett in a bid to highlight the issue as controversy continues over how many schools should be closed.

It came as Matt Hancock today warned that ‘nothing is ruled out’ to contain mutant Covid as he defied Tory anger to hint the whole of England will be under Tier 4 within days – and enforcement could be hardened.

The Health Secretary put Britons on notice that stronger restrictions will be needed for months, despite the optimism sparked by the first Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doses being administered.

Many headteachers ordered to stay open have decided to shut their gates anyway this morning despite the Prime Minister’s insistence that ‘schools are safe’ as all of Britain’s teaching unions called for classroom teaching to be ‘paused’ until staff are vaccinated. 

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, who organised the letter, warned that Ofcom estimates that between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children in the UK (9 per cent) 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.

Data from the Office for National Statistics says only 51 per cent of households earning between £6,000 and £10,000 have internet access, the Mitcham and Morden MP added.

Former prime minister Tony Blair today backed demands for laptops and tablets to be given to hundreds of thousands of children who face their schools closing in the face of a surge in Covid infections.

Former prime minister Tony Blair today backed demands for laptops and tablets to be given to hundreds of thousands of children who face their schools closing in the face of a surge in Covid infections.

Data from the Office for National Statistics says only 51 per cent of households earning between £6,000 and £10,000 have internet access

Data from the Office for National Statistics says only 51 per cent of households earning between £6,000 and £10,000 have internet access

Charities, unions and current MPs have also co-signed a letter with ex-Cabinet ministers including Lord Blunkett in a bid to highlight the issue as controversy continues over how many schools should be closed.

Charities, unions and current MPs have also co-signed a letter with ex-Cabinet ministers including Lord Blunkett in a bid to highlight the issue as controversy continues over how many schools should be closed.

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, who organised the letter, warned that Ofcom estimates that between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children in the UK (9 per cent) do not have home access to a laptop, desktop, or tablet.

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, who organised the letter, warned that Ofcom estimates that between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children in the UK (9 per cent) do not have home access to a laptop, desktop, or tablet.

‘Children on the wrong side of the digital divide have neither the data nor the devices to log in from home when their schools close,’ she said.

‘In a country with free state education, no child’s education should be dependent on their internet connection.’ 

Among those who signed the letter are former education secretaries Alan Johnson and Baroness Morris. 

It says: ‘We write to you following the news that school will be closed for millions of pupils for the opening weeks of the new term.

‘At the time of writing, all secondary school pupils in England and more than one million primary school pupils will be reliant on remote learning to continue their education.

‘In October, the law changed to require teachers to provide remote education to pupils who are unable to attend school because of Covid-19.

‘So, whilst we welcome the remote education support offered to schools by the Government, the number of devices pledged falls far short of the number required.

‘Furthermore, a device is only effective for remote learning if the pupil can access the internet at home, with 880,000 children living in a household with only a mobile internet connection, in addition to those children on the wrong side of the digital divide with no connection at all.

‘These pupils were likely to be behind their peers even before the pandemic.

‘With the new term starting today, we are calling on you to urgently ensure that every child away from school has the data and device that they need to log in and learn from home.

‘This will require a register of which children are without the technology or connectivity and a clear plan for how they will quickly receive this.’

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘As the Prime Minister has said, children’s education has consistently been a national priority, which is why we want classrooms to reopen wherever possible in the new term. It is also vital that where public health advice means they can’t be, we have measures in place to prevent them from falling behind.

‘We have scaled up our devices scheme, alongside our tutoring offer to reach as many children and young people as possible.

‘More than one million laptops and tablets have been purchased for disadvantaged young people through this pandemic, supporting schools and students to ensure remote education is as strong as it can be.’

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