'A real kick in the teeth for disadvantaged children' - Leeds headteacher slams Government for cutting laptop allocation for deprived school

A Leeds headteacher of one of the city’s most deprived schools has branded as “a scandal” the Government’s decision to slash the number of laptops allocated to his disadvantaged pupils to allow them to learn from home during the pandemic.

Saturday, 24th October 2020, 2:17 pm
Updated Saturday, 24th October 2020, 2:20 pm

Chris Dyson, headteacher at Parklands Primary School in Seacroft said he logged on to the Department for Education (DfE) website on Friday evening after receiving an email about the number of laptops available for schools to distribute to students who may be forced to isolate due to a coronavirus outbreak at school.

And although the email was “all celebration”, he said, with the department explaining “we've got another 100,000 laptops, so we're changing the way we're allocating to schools”, leading Mr Dyson to believe he was in fact getting more resources, instead he saw his allocation had been cut from 61 to 13.

The DfE said it had bought an additional 96,000 devices for schools but was “updating our allocation process” amid “significant global demand”.

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Chris Dyson, headteacher at Parklands Primary School. Photo: JPI Media

But Mr Dyson said he had heard from scores of other headteachers across the country who had similarly seen their numbers plummet, the day after it became statutory for schools to provide remote learning.

“When you've got a Government saying that they want to level the playing field between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children, and then you take away the technology that they need, it’s an absolute joke,” he said.

Mr Dyson, who calculated he would need 168 laptops to help all pupils who need them in his 380-pupil school, said that during the national lockdown students were given “old-fashioned” paper worksheets if they could not access remote learning at home.

But now the law had changed to force schools to provide remote learning, it left him in an impossible position.

The timing of the changes to laptop allocation numbers “beggars belief”, school leaders’ union NAHT said.

Mr Dyson said: “We're one of the most deprived schools in the country and again, it's an algorithm.

“Nobody's rung up from the DfE to say, ‘have you done a questionnaire on how many laptops you need?’, it’s done on a national formula.

“Now how on earth do they know who has got a laptop in Seacroft and who hasn’t?

“It’s someone sitting in London in their lovely comfy office just tapping numbers into a computer, and coming out with absolutely ridiculous, stupid numbers.”

The DfE said more than 340,000 laptops and tablets were being made available to schools this term to support disadvantaged children, with deliveries expected to total half a million by Christmas.

It has pledged devices for disadvantaged children in years 3 to 11 who do not have laptops and whose face-to-face education is disrupted, as well as any disadvantaged children shielding.

The department calculates the number of devices available to schools based on the number of children in years 3 to 11, free school meals data and how many devices a school already had.

The DfE said its allocation process had been updated to align orders with the numbers of pupils schools typically have self-isolating.

But Mr Dyson said: “It’s a real kick in the teeth for disadvantaged children across the nation.”

Nick Brook, NAHT deputy general secretary, said: “The fact that the Government is simultaneously announcing an additional supply of laptops, whilst at the same time reducing each school’s allocation demonstrates that it has seriously underestimated the impact coronavirus would have on schools this term.

“The Government has been quick to mandate what it expects schools to be able to do when it comes to remote learning, but is clearly unable to deliver the necessary tools that schools and their pupils need.

“It beggars belief that within 24 hours of making immediate access to remote learning a legal requirement, the government has announced that it is reducing the number of laptops schools are eligible to receive.”

For Labour, shadow schools minister Wes Streeting said: “Only this incompetent Government could introduce a legal duty on schools to provide online learning for pupils isolating at home and then cut their allocation of laptops the very next day.

“Education has been a total afterthought for this Government throughout this pandemic and it’s a disgrace.”

Mr Dyson also said that 72 per cent of children in the community were on free school meals, and he was lucky that a “mystery donor” had provided £11,400 to allow him to provide food for those children over Christmas.

It comes after Leeds captain Liam Cooper has pledged a donation of £25,000 on behalf of the club’s playing squad in support of Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free school meals, and a number of other Yorkshire councils and businesses pledged to provide food, after the Government this week voted against a Labour motion to extend the school dinners scheme.

A DfE spokesperson said: “The scale and speed at which the department has delivered laptops and tablets to children who need them over the past six months is unprecedented, with deliveries now set to total over half a million by Christmas.

“As we move into half term, and in the context of significant global demand, we’re updating our allocation process to more accurately align orders with the number of students schools typically have self-isolating, ensuring as many children as possible benefit from receiving a device this term.

“We have already purchased an additional 96,000 devices and continue to work closely with our suppliers to ensure delivery despite the increased global demand.”