FAMILIES are urged to come forward and speak with local councillors, charities or schools if they are struggling with home schooling and do not have access to devices.

Devices and connectivity support has been offered to some children in Year 10, have a support worker or are a care leaver, but families with multiple children and fewer devices, such as tablets or laptops, are at risk of falling behind as schoolwork remains largely online.

One Darlington woman, who would like to remain anonymous, is concerned for a family member who, she says, does not like asking for help but is struggling to keep two children up to date with schoolwork on one device.

She said: "One of the children needs to be online all day which means the younger one is becoming seriously disengaged.

"They were really excited when the laptops were announced but neither child is in Year 10.

"They don't want anyone to know they are struggling but would take support if it was offered, like the school food vouchers, but won't ask for it."

As of June 30, the Department for Education had given 202,212 devices, such as laptops, tablets, and 47,416 4G wireless routers to local authorities and academy trusts to distribute them to families, children and young people.

Councillor Matthew Snedker expressed concern for residents in College ward, and urged people to come forward for support.

He said: "There were people in my ward that were struggling to get school work down and some have received support from the school and are now online.

"If someone is struggling, then please come to me or your local councillor.

"It is understandable to feel concerned about reaching out, but there will be people in every school to speak to in confidence who understand its sensitivity, from my experience as a parent and a governor."

Children North East has launched a Covid-19 tech support appeal, urging businesses to donate devices to be given to families in need and so far distribute £1,400 worth of new tablets.

Luke Bramhall, school research and delivery service manager for the charity, said: "We are very aware of this problem, which was already an issue for disadvantaged pupils prior to Covid-19 in relation to homework, but has been magnified by the crisis because families have been struggling to access school work remotely and regularly.

"Many families are relying on smart phones with limited data to access school work for their children and social opportunities for the whole family."

The organisation is working with local authorities across the North-East to ensure the most vulnerable families get access to a device, but says the issue extends to families who may have one device with many users and urges families to reach out.

Chris Zarraga, director of Schools North East, a network of schools led by headteachers, said: "Due to the significant levels of disadvantage in our region, this is an issue that disproportionately affects the North-East.

"We have spoken to many schools who are working hard to overcome these issues, whether through charity schemes or offering alternative, hardcopy learning packs but this is not a long-term solution.

"While lack of digital access for these students has been exposed due to school closures during the pandemic, it is a perennial problem which has contributed to the widening gap between disadvantaged students and their peers in the past.

"Rather than quick fixes, we need the Government to look at long term plans and policies which will ensure this problem does not continue to affect our students after Covid-19."