Lambeth Council has yet to receive laptops it ordered for disadvantaged children missing out on online learning, an overview and scrutiny committee heard last week (May 19).  

Committee members grilled the council leader and cabinet members over a host of issues concerning young people at the meeting, including how children in care were being looked after, foster care placements, free school meal vouchers, schools reopening, and children not having access to the internet or laptops. 

Various conditions concerning children and young people were agreed at the end the meeting, including asking for reassurance that schools can reopen safely, addressing the digital access divide among pupils, gathering information on children who have lost out on learning and ensuring a catch-up package is created, and ensuring that the experience of children under the council’s care during the pandemic is assessed and learned from. 

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, it’s become clear that many children do not have access to sufficient internet or laptops to continue learning outside of school.  

Councillor Ed Davie, cabinet member for children and young people, said the council ordered 1,200 laptops from the Government scheme after it was announced last month to address the situation, but has yet to receive anything.  

“We’ve ordered 1,200 laptops from the national Government scheme, again I’m afraid to say the national Government scheme [is] not very good.  

“We still don’t have the laptops, we’re waiting, we suspect it’s the end of June, which is really not good enough. 

“We’ve tried to support as many as we can locally and support children and families. 

“There are real challenges around this, many schools are providing paperwork books for children who don’t have access to the internet, but I was talking to a teacher the other day and she’s got five children under the age of five and they all try and use her phone which runs out of data in seconds, so this is still a really major challenge,” he said.  

Merlin Joseph, Lambeth’s strategic director of children services, said some children – those in the council’s care and care leavers – already have laptops. 

“Our schools worked extensively with their pupils to provide laptops as well.  

“But we’re not there and we recognise that,” she said. 

A Department for Education spokesperson said he expects the laptops to arrive within the next weeks.

“We will do everything possible to make sure no child, whatever their background, falls behind as a result of coronavirus. 

“We have provided over £100 million to boost remote education, including providing devices to those children who need it most, and technical support for schools to access and effectively use Google and Microsoft’s education platforms. 

“This is alongside the launch of The Oak National Academy – a new initiative backed by £300,000 of Government funding – to deliver video lessons and resources for any teacher in the country to make use of across a broad range of subjects, for every year group from Reception through to Year 10.

“The BBC has also produced a range of education content available both online and on broadcast television,” he said.