Following the announcement that certain schools will remain closed in January, Mary joined with cross-Party Parliamentarians, former MPs, Lords and charities and other organisations to call on the Government to take urgent action to ensure that all children have access to the internet, and a device that will allow them to learn remotely.
Ofcom estimates that up to 1.78 million pupils across the UK do not have either access to the internet, or a device capable of doing so, and Mary was happy to add her name to this letter to the Prime Minister demanding that no pupil is left behind due to lack of technology.
The letter reads:
Dear Prime Minister
RE: School closures and remote education
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. But the lockdown exposed the digital divide across the UK, with approximately 9% of children without access to a laptop, desktop or tablet. Ofcom estimate the number to be up to an extraordinary 1.78 million children.
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. After five months of missed education, they returned to school further behind and now start that new year facing weeks of even more missed education.
Whilst we welcome the development of the online Oak Academy, we recognise that it remains inaccessible to all those pupils on the wrong side of the digital divide and it is fundamental that no child’s education is dependent on their internet connection. In a country with free state education, the Oak Academy must be freely available to every pupil in every school.
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.
We ask your response as a matter of urgency.