Technology firms have pledged to work alongside the Government to ensure all schoolchildren are able to adequately study at home.

The move come following pressure to improve internet access as all schools close following the announcement of a third national lockdown in England.

The Government has said that more than one million laptops and tablets will be provided to pupils by the end of the academic year to help with remote study, and previously launched a scheme to provide subsidised mobile data to those who need it.

But as schools close to most pupils under the latest lockdown restrictions announced on Monday, fresh concerns have been raised about a digital divide among pupils, with many unable to access or afford mobile devices or an adequate broadband connection, and technology firms being urged to do more to make data and devices available to those unable to afford to take part in remote learning.

Telecoms giant BT confirmed it was already working with the Department for Education (DfE) on an existing scheme which provides disadvantaged children with extra mobile data each month.

“Connectivity is absolutely essential to helping children keep up with their learning throughout the pandemic, which is why we partner with the DfE to give 20GB of free data per month to disadvantaged families,” a BT spokesperson said.

“The data is accessed through children’s schools, and will allow pupils to access whichever educational resource that their school subscribes to, to help make sure no-one is left behind while face-to-face teaching is paused.”

Three UK took to social media to to announce they will be working to provide unlimited data to disadvantaged school children.

They said: “It’s really important that during these times all children have access to connectivity. That’s why we’re working with @educationgovuk to provide unlimited data to disadvantaged school children.”

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said it was down to the Prime Minister to push network operators to make data more affordable.

“With child poverty figures on the rise, the challenge remains large – but action must be swift, immediate and game-changing,” she said.

“We must hear no more of rationing of equipment, as we did late last year. If the stockpiles exist, as the Department for Education claim they do, then they must be distributed urgently.

“We have heard too many stories of requests from schools not being met, or not being fully met.

“We must also see swift action to make internet connections and data allowance affordable for remote learning. This can only come from the top, with the Prime Minister speaking to communications companies and making that change immediately.”

Milford Mercury: (PA)(PA)

A Government scheme is already in place which will see data allowances increased on mobile devices to help disadvantaged children. 

The scheme will allow children and young people can access remote education while face-to-face education is disrupted.

Who can get help?

Schools, trusts and local authorities can request mobile data increases for children and young people who:

  • do not have fixed broadband at home
  • cannot afford additional data for their devices
  • are experiencing disruption to their face-to-face education

Schools, trusts and local authorities can request an increase in mobile data when schools are closed or pupils are self-isolating.

Children with access to a mobile phone on one of the following networks might be able to benefit:

  • Three
  • Smarty
  • Virgin Mobile
  • EE
  • Tesco Mobile
  • Sky Mobile

Other providers may join the scheme at a later stage.

How to request a data increase

For each request, we need to know:

  • the name of the account holder
  • the number of the mobile device
  • the mobile network of that device (for example Three)

Schools, trusts and local authorites will need to submit mobile information through the government's service which can be found here.

The time it takes to process requests will vary with each provider but once a netowrk has processed a data increase a text message will be sent to the account holder.

You can visit the GOV.UK website for more information.