Government still sitting on three quarters of laptops bought to help vulnerable children during lockdown

As of this week, fewer than 50,000 of the 200,000 devices due to be delivered as part of £85m scheme have reached the intended recipients

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As of earlier this week, the government had distributed fewer than one in four of the 200,000 laptops it has acquired as part of an £85m scheme to help disadvantaged children continue learning during lockdown.

On 19 April the education secretary Gavin Williamson announced that, to ensure vulnerable and disadvantaged children did not miss out on learning while schools are closed, the government was to provide them with free laptops and tablets and, if necessary, routers or dongles to enable internet connectivity.

A total of 200,000 devices have been purchased for the scheme, at a cost of £85m – including a £3m deal to equip them with security software.

Not long after the scheme was first announced, it emerged that the laptops would not begin being delivered to the children they are intended for until late May at the earliest, with the rollout to continue during June.

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In a written parliamentary question posed earlier this month, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle Emma Hardy asked whether any of the kit had reached pupils before the half-term break that began on 22 May.

In response, school standards minister Nick Gibb failed to directly address Hardy’s enquiry but said that, as of  this week, “the department has delivered nearly 50,000 devices and 10,000 4G wireless routers to local authorities [to] distribute to eligible children”.

“Deliveries will continue throughout June,” he added.

This means that, almost two months after the emergency scheme was launched, more than three-quarters of the 200,000 machines ordered by government are yet to even reach local authorities, let alone the pupils that are ultimately intended to benefit from the scheme.

The scheme works by allocating computers to local authorities and academy trusts based on their estimates of how many of their pupils are eligible for the scheme. Devices are intended for “vulnerable and disadvantaged” children that are care leavers, supported by a social worker, or are preparing for year 10 exams. 

“Local authorities and academy trusts are best placed to identify and distribute the laptops, tablets and 4G wireless routers to children and young people who need them,” Gibb added. The department has invited local authorities to order devices for the most vulnerable children first – children with a social worker and care leavers.”


Sam Trendall

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