Study shows big divide between richer and poorer children in access to IT during lockdown

Study from NFER shines a light on disparities

Credit: Antonio Chaves/CC BY-SA 4.0

More than nine in 10 leaders of the country’s most deprived schools claim that some of their pupils have had “limited access to IT at home” during lockdown.

A newly published study by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) reveals a sharp divide between richer and poorer pupils.

The disparity is shown by the 93% of those surveyed from the most deprived schools expressing concerns about some students having the necessary access to technology – compared with 73% of school leaders in the least deprived.

Josh Hillman, director of Education at Nuffield Foundation think tank said: “The shift to remote learning during lockdown has made the implications of children and young people’s unequal access to IT equipment and connectivity even more stark. It has also highlighted sharp disparities in the extent to which students are engaging with their school work away from classrooms.”

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The NFER study also reveals that teachers in England’s schools report being in regular contact with just 60% of their pupils, while only 42% of students returned their last piece of set work. 

School leaders meanwhile believe that around a third of pupils as many as three in ten pupils “are not engaging with set work at all”.

The figures come after the government was forced to shelve its plans for all primary school pupils to return to the classroom before the summer holidays, instead setting out fresh guidance on Monday to encourage schools to reopen.

The research also highlights the gulf between England’s most and least deprived schools after months of closures.

Teachers told the study that 55% of their pupils’ parents were engaged with their children’s home learning — with that figure standing at 41% in the most deprived schools compared to 62% in the least.

Launching the study, NFER chief executive Carole Willis said: “There are considerable differences in the levels of pupil engagement in remote learning, particularly amongst the most disadvantaged pupils.  #This supports a growing evidence base highlighting the risk of the attainment gap widening as a result of this pandemic. There is a pressing need for a comprehensive and long-term plan to address this issue.”

Two months ago, the government announced a scheme to distribute 200,000 laptops to vulnerable children around the UK, as well as dongles and routers where connectivity is required. But it emerged that, as of last week, three-quarters of the devices ordered by the government – at a cumulative cost of £85m – have not yet reached a local authority or academy trust, let alone the children intended as their ultimate recipients.

Sam Trendall

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