Government spends £87m on extra 460,000 laptops to support remote learning

Written by Sam Trendall on 12 January 2021 in News

Procurement documents show DfE awarded another deal to Computacenter in November

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The Department for Education spent £87m with its major supplier of laptops for remote learning to cover the delivery of an additional 460,000 machines, procurement documents reveal.

Newly published transparency data shows that Computacenter was awarded the one-year deal on 11 November. Of the one million or so devices bought for the DfE’s Get Help With Technology programme since the start of the pandemic, around 850,000 have been procured from the Hertfordshire-based IT firm – at a cumulative cost of £200m.

The most recent batch, which is the biggest single order for the programme, covers 210,000 Windows laptops and 150,000 Chromebooks, as well as 50,000 Windows tablets and 50,000 iPads. The contract also provides for an optional “potential requirement” of 50,000 Android tablets.

“While price plays an important factor, the department will look to derive the long-term value of remote education and technology in the classroom through these devices,” the contract said. “Devices should present a sound long-term investment and be robust enough to give value for several years in an education setting.”

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It added: “What is paramount, is short delivery timelines which are crucial to reducing the time children in England may be unable to access remote education. As such, we require devices delivered under this contract to arrive in regular and steady flow as soon as possible after they are manufactured, with the final shipments to be delivered by 7 February. Our ideal scenario is regular and significant volumes from November [and] December 2020 and throughout January 2021 to ensure delivery, inbound logistics and onward dispatch to trusts and schools is not constrained.”

The Get Help With Technology programme was launched during the first national lockdown last year, with the initial tranche of 220,000 devices delivered in the early summer to support remote learning for disadvantaged pupils in year 10 or those preparing for exams. 

The scheme was continued once schools returned in the autumn to support online study for children that were required to isolate but did not have access to a computing device at home.

Although procured some time before the UK returned into another nationwide lockdown, the latest batch of machines will support the DfE in providing laptops for children who are not equipped for home learning – although the department’s guidance has also outlined that these pupils are considered ‘vulnerable’ and can thus continue to attend school.

Computacenter’s work in supporting the laptop programme has seen the firm added to Whitehall’s list of strategic suppliers – each of which has a named representative who manages the relationship on a cross-government. After some doubt about whether the company was being added in the list that was published in October, documents published last week reveal that firm is now included among the roster of 36 companies. 

It joins large professional services and construction firms, as well as other tech players such as Oracle, Microsoft, Fuijtsu and Amazon Web Services – which itself was added about a year ago.


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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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