North West Academies Trust provides laptops to ease lockdown learning

Chester-based North West Academies Trust has invested in more than 200 new laptops to make sure all pupils can keep learning in lockdown.

Most children have been receiving education at home since the Government closed all schools due to the coronavirus pandemic in March, and being able to access work online is key to that.

But Headteachers at each of the Trust’s eight schools across Cheshire and Shropshire have identified families without access to suitable devices, leaving them at a potential disadvantage as they try to keep up with studies.

Now the Trust has bought more than 200 devices, and been granted more by the Government and Northern Powerhouse, and they will be available to pupils to use at home.

Steve Docking, CEO of North West Academies Trust (NWAT), said: “We know that teaching children from home is a difficult task, and this can be far more stressful if the technology is not good enough.

“Families with one computer have suddenly found everyone in the household needs it, and some families don’t have a computer at all.

“We needed to do something – letting children fall behind just because they cannot easily access lessons is simply not an option.”

NWAT oversees Grosvenor Park Academy, St Martin’s Academy and Acresfield Primary School in Chester; Oak View Academy, Weaverham Primary Academy, Rudheath Senior Academy and Delamere CofE Academy in Mid Cheshire, and Ellesmere Primary School, Shropshire.

The schools have pulled out all the stops to make sure learning has continued during the lockdown, and the acquisition of the laptops – in addition to the resources the schools already had – is another step forward.

The move has been backed by Eddisbury MP Edward Timpson CBE, who has spoken about his concerns over the lack of ‘digital parity’ for home learners.

The former Children’s Minister said: “Teachers are discovering pupil engagement in home learning fairly closely matches pupil attendance levels, but they also report that the quality of work returned by children is only as good as their IT equipment will allow, regardless of which school they attend.

“This all brings into sharper focus the need to address digital parity for all children, with an estimated one third of children aged five-to-16 without access to a laptop computer.

“With staged returns to school likely to continue into the autumn, the gap in educational achievement must not widen to a point where it cannot be fixed when schools fully return.”

The Government are alive to this, with a new scheme rolling out 200,000 free laptops and tablets to vulnerable and disadvantaged children, the development of the Oak National Academy online classroom and resource hub and the funding of ‘Ed-Tech Demonstrator’ schools.

“This will undoubtedly help. But with e-learning set to become an ever more dominant feature of day to day teaching, there is now a need for a coherent and comprehensive national approach to tech connectivity and learning that will support all schools and enable a levelling up of digital access for all children.”