A snapshot survey of 167 school and college leaders led by the Children’s Commissioner for Wales has revealed the wide range of barriers facing learners in accessing distanced learning during the current lockdown.
- 12% of schools had at least 20% of learners without access to a digital device;
- Colleges reported a range of 0 – 20% of learners without access to devices
- Having shared, rather than exclusive, access to a device is common with more than half of learners sharing access in 35% of schools or colleges.
- Social barriers are often as important as digital access according to education leaders, with low confidence and lack of time and space affecting parents’ abilities to support their children’s lessons.
Responding to concerns being reported in the media and with her own independent investigation and advice service about children lacking digital devices and broadband or data to access their learning, the Commissioner decided to gain a picture of need by requesting information directly from head teachers and college principals.
Over a period of just 8 days, 167 school and college leaders reported a wide-range of barriers:
- the most common being that some families had not been in contact with the school or college to make arrangements regarding digital access (which had occurred in 49% of settings),
- 42% of settings did not have enough devices,
- in more than 52% of schools and colleges there were some households without access to the internet,
- in 46% there were some households with insufficient data allowances.
Speaking about the findings and ahead of an appearance in front of the Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee, Professor Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, said:”
“I’ve been particularly struck by the huge and varied efforts schools and colleges reported making to provide for the varied needs of their pupils, to try to get them all online and to provide appropriate lessons and wellbeing support using a wide variety of methods. But a digital divide remains in Wales for learners. In response to what I’ve heard, I’m asking for three key changes:
- Local authorities and Welsh Government should consider the findings of this report alongside their own current audit to ensure remaining local devices supply issues are resolved without delay.
- Whilst acknowledging efforts in rolling out Mifi devices, gaps remain. To ensure Wales-wide coverage, Welsh Government should progress with urgency their discussions with major UK mobile and broadband providers so that offers to English counterparts are extended to learners in Wales.
- Whilst there are clear immediate improvements required, Welsh Government should work on improving connectivity, access to digital devices and digital skills and confidence amongst parents and carers across the country for the longer term. Education relies on learners being able to study independently at home and the pandemic has reinforced social and educational inequalities. Digital inclusion is one of the routes towards ensuring that every child has an equal chance to reach their full potential.
In addition to seeking the views of school and college leaders about the digital divide, the Commissioner is also leading on a major consultation of children and young people – a repeat of the Coronavirus and Me survey which nearly 24,000 children responded to during the initial lockdown in May 2020. The results of that initial survey influenced governments at a national and local level. Results from this latest consultation will be shared with government to provide further evidence on the effect of the pandemic and restriction measures on children’s lives for Ministers to consider when reviewing restrictions.
Notes to editors