THIS week, The Northern Echo has joined forces with rival publishers across the North to launch the Cash for Connectivity appeal and ensure children can access online learning at home.

But a Government pledge during the first lockdown to provide laptops to the most disadvantaged children remains far from being met, a meeting has heard.

Darlington Borough Council’s children and young people portfolio holder Councillor Jon Clarke told a full meeting of the authority many schools and parents were continuing to raise questions over the whereabouts of the laptops they had requested and the council was highlighting the issue to Government officials.

The meeting heard there was remained a chronic shortage of the devices for children without online access they needed to undertake the five hours of school work they were meant to do a day.

Announcing the move to provide laptops to disadvantaged children last April, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said it would “take the pressure” off parents with children at home.

However, the Darlington council meeting heard some nine months later some parents were continuing to feel pressure due to the lack of devices.

Councillor Nick Wallis said the Education Village had revealed Haughton Academy had 380 disadvantaged pupils on roll and just 165 devices had been delivered.

He said: “I realise the Department for Education will say that not every one of those children will require a device but, in our experience, where there is already access to a device in the home, it is usually not suitable for accessing and contributing to live lessons or the effective and efficient production of school work.

“It is also often the case that the parents and siblings also need access to that device.”

Cllr Clarke said he would join other parties on the council in lobbying the Department for Education to make urgent changes to both the criteria for allocating laptops, and to speed up delivery.

He said: “Children’s education is so important, not just for the children but for the mental health of the parents as well. It’s not just them that are suffering through this so the quicker we get schools open in a safe manner the better for all concerned.

He said the Department for Education had not agreed to the council’s request for access to its data over the distribution of devices to track queries.

Cllr Clarke said some 636 devices were distributed to Darlington schools in the third week of the January term and 543 in the following week.

Elsewhere, a host of Darlington businesses have answered Peter Gibson's appeal to provide laptops for children.

The Darlington MP made the appeal after learning that a number of pupils from the primary school on Coleridge Gardens did not have the devices as they need to enable remote learning during the third national coronavirus lockdown.

Local and Darlington-based including Hellens Group, Latimer Hinks Solicitors, Recognition PR and Wharton Construction, have together pledged to source and donate 12 new devices to the school.

Mr Gibson said: "I’d like to thank these businesses - I know that it’s going to make a big difference to the children.

“I’ve been working very closely with a number of schools, Darlington Borough Council and a number of other businesses and charities to ensure local children have access to learning. I have also met with Minister Nick Gibb to press the case for schools in Darlington have all the devices that they need.

“Children and young people across Darlington are being asked to sacrifice so many things during this lockdown – it’s vital that preserving the life chances afforded by education is not one of them."

The Northern Echo has joined forces with rival publishers across the North to launch the Cash for Connectivity appeal and ensure children can access online learning at home.

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