Students wanting to study need the kit and the place – this is rarely at home.

We need to open libraries, keep school LRCs and Learning Zones open. And if needs be open unused Town Halls and other spaces that have reliable broadband and can be set up as supervised, safe and quite places to study.

I work in FE and HE as a learning technologist which puts me in the front line of providing support for educators, students and staff in their efforts and heartfelt desire to meet the needs of their students. The struggle goes way beyond efforts to provide a laptop and Internet access. We find, regardless that as many as 40% of students follow a class and do project work on a smartphone when they need a laptop at least, and ideally a desktop computer … and crucially, the time, place, support and lack of interruption to study. For too many young people, as this series of interviews on the BBC 4 World at One showed yesterday, their ambitions and expectations have been dashed. As a society we have let them down, though the angle of the interview is simply to balance the government and line up a minister for a sacking … as a society we have the solution. If we can rally round to provide ‘free school meals’ and ‘food banks’ then we should be able to rally round to provide spaces where young people can study online and receive the support they need – away from the disruptions (and distractions) of home. 

The World at One with Sarah Montague BBC Radio 4 © BBC 2021 World at One 5/01/2021

Sarah Montague “On Monday night … [Boris Johnson] said it was not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal”. She spoke to A’ Level student Assad Khalang  who was shocked when exams were cancelled though not surprised when schools were closed and found the idea of being locked down for the next few weeks ‘shocking’. Assad pointed out that anxiety, lack of motivation, inability to focus all had an impact, as did just being at a desk in the house with family life going on around, even for a couple of hours a day, was hard, let alone wanting to ask teachers for advice or to sort out technical problems. 

Sue Montague then spoke to Lucy Reed from high Tunstall College in Hartlepool and used the word “devastated” over the lock down as she felt she was “ just getting back into the swing of things”. She was also upset at exams being cancelled as she was always keen to do these because she wanted to prove to people what I can do and that I’ve worked hard”. She did agree to the cancellation though astutely point out that “many people at home  can’t access computers. IT, or just don’t have the motivation.” 

Sue Montague then spoke to Sue Vermes the head teacher of Rose Hill Primary School in Oxford which serves ‘one of the most disadvantaged catchments in Oxfordshire” with 40% of children eligible for school meals – the litmus test for support needs in the community and those prioritised to get help with computers in the home for each student. Needing 150 computers during the first lockdown the school eventually got 17 (at the end of the summer term). Sue Vermes made the point with some emphasis that it isn’t just about the hardware or Internet access, she said, “It’s having space to work, it’s having people who feel confident to support their children with their work” … on a positive note she said children were really keen and attendance was excellence once they were back in school for the autumn term. “But it’s about the mending of children’s confidence and well-being’ she added. 

Finally, Sue Montague spoke to Sir Michael Wilshore who was the Chief Inspector of Schools in England, Head of Ofsted from 2012 until 2016. His worry was the loss of learning across the year in schools and the need for “measures to make sure that youngsters clawback the lost learning and particularly poor youngsters who’ve had the worst deal possible”.  He felt the government had no excuse over failing to get kit to students who needed hardware, that these were “just logistical issues” and “the fact that youngsters in poor families didn’t get those laptops is quite shocking”. He added, thinking on the hoof, that perhaps local authorities could step in, or that unused offices with appropriate social distancing could be provided. 

In Conclusion 

I ask can we keep schools open through the summer?   Why not indeed have councils work to commandeer or volunteer space not being used already ? Not so much unused offices, but council chambers and halls, and libraries … as well halls and learning zones with desk tops in schools, and even leisure centres where staff will have the required. There is a history of things like these being done in the past.

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