Preventing digital exclusion during the pandemic

16 June 2021

In January 2021, The Rothschild Foundation provided a grant of £130,000 to Buckinghamshire Council. The purpose of the grant funding was to provide digital devices to infant children at risk of digital exclusion in Buckinghamshire during the Covid pandemic when most pupils were working from home.

The Foundation realised that pupils in years Reception, Year One and Year Two and in receipt of free school meals were not included in the Governments laptop scheme, and that this group of young pupils were therefore at risk of exclusion from online lessons and the virtual interaction with their teachers and friends.

An initial survey of schools in Buckinghamshire with infant pupil cohorts identified 1,136 infant pupils in 128 schools who did not have access to a digital device to enable them to participate in home learning during the national lockdown of Spring term 2021. Of these pupils, 229 did not have internet access in the home and would require a SIM for the device.

55% of schools with eligible infant pupils purchased devices and claimed funding through the scheme.  745 infant pupils across Buckinghamshire in 70 schools benefited from the devices during the lockdown.  All pupils in these 70 schools will now be able to access the devices to support their learning in lessons or at home as they have become part of the school’s technology resources.  In total, £70,808 was spent on the devices and SIMs.

All schools involved in the project were surveyed to determine the impact that the project had on their pupils.  23 schools responded to the survey (33% response rate). All responding schools were extremely positive about the impact of the devices on their infant pupils over the course of the period when pupils were working remotely.

The majority of schools reported the scheme was very easy to participate in, with only three schools noting that they struggled to find a suitable device within the £100 limit.

Now that all pupils are back in the classroom, the devices will continue to be used to support infant pupils with usage including FSM pupils retaining the devices to support at home learning, being used to support classroom activities and supporting 1:1 or small group interventions.

We are now exploring opportunities with the Council for longer term digital support for young people and families. This aims to address the ongoing issue of digital exclusion seeing as the pandemic has accelerated schools’ technology plans with the risk of many being left behind.