"Where have all the laptops gone?" - as home study hit, Newcastle Liberal Democrats councillors are calling for answers from the Council and Government

October 25, 2020 2:49 PM

Opposition Liberal Democrats councillors are calling for Newcastle City Council urgently to raise concerns with the Government's Department for Education after it emerged that dozens of city schools may see a promised allocation of laptops for schoolchildren slashed by 80%.

It has emerged that the Government sneaked out news on Friday evening - after schools had finished for half term - that a promised 100,000 new laptops for schools to help students having to study at home during Covid self-isolation was being rethought and many schools now look set to get just 20% of the computers they had previously been promised.

The Government had pledged to provide devices for children who don't have access to one at home and who have suffered disruption to their face to face education during the Covid crisis. In June, Newcastle's Labour council announced it would be helping 3000 families and a total of 6500 children by distributing 1600 laptops provided under the scheme, which aims to help children who don't have a device or access to internet at home. But in September, the council was forced to admit it had only received 700 computers, falling far short of a promise by the Labour council leadership to that they would give computers, internet routers, and other IT essentials to any family with a child aged 5 to 16 that needed them.

At the time, the Liberal Democrats Opposition called the news a "disgrace, showing lack of organisation and lack of urgency towards the most vulnerable and deprived children and families [which] should have been priority number one."

In Friday's announcement, the Government suggested that the scheme was seeking to redirect the laptops to give priority to schools with more than 15 pupils self-isolating, leading many schools to see a reduction in their allocation of up to 80%.

Christine Morrissey canvassingLiberal Democrats assistant shadow cabinet spokesperson for children Cllr Christine Morrissey is writing to the council chief executive and the Labour cabinet member for children Cllr Paula Holland asking the local authority to clarify how many laptops are now expected to be received in the city, and how far short this falls from what was promised by the council.

She said:

" In a week when we have already seen the Conservative Government fail to provide half term school meal support to hard-pressed low income households in Newcastle, it is troubling that they are seemingly now diverting promised laptops away from Newcastle children who are already experiencing significant disruption to their education.

I accept that the Government is ultimately at fault here for changing the rules, and it is particularly shabby that they sneaked out this information in an email to schools sent after most had finished for half-term, but I am also disappointed that the council's Labour leadership publicly announced a bold pledge to help local schoolchildren with laptops but has failed to fulfil it.

I will be calling on the council to take this up urgently with the Department for Education to support my calls for this to be reviewed. Having made a public pledge that the council would deliver this help, Newcastle children and families deserve an explanation of why they have been badly let down."