School gives over 1 in 3 pupils computers in bid to break 'digital divide'
- Credit: Paradigm Trust
A school in Ipswich has given computers to two out of every five of its pupils - allowing it to make a dramatic shift to holding 75% of its lessons "live" online.
Murrayfield Primary had not been able to run live video lessons when the coronavirus crisis broke last March, with principal Claire Willis saying: "One of the significant challenges we faced in the first lockdown was the digital divide."
While many young people have laptops and tablets to enable them to learn effectively at home, others have been forced to share devices with parents and siblings or have been stuck with using mobile phones - hence the term "digital divide".
Since the pandemic broke, there has been a major effort to ensure young people get the online access they need.
By January, Suffolk County Council had distributed 944 laptops, 75 tablets and 150 4G hotspots to pupils who do not ordinarily have access to technology under a Department for Education scheme.
Many schools had also organised their own fundraising campaigns.
At Murrayfield, Mrs Willis said the Nacton Road school had been able to cater for around 40% of school's 366 pupils, by giving out 160 devices to enable them to work from home.
While children were in school during the autumn term, teachers worked extensively with pupils to make sure they knew how to use the kit in case of another lockdown.
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That preparation came into its own when the nation was plunged into its third national lockdown in January, with all pupils except those of key workers expected to stay at home.
The move means that children log on by Google Hangout for registration in the morning and log in for three live lessons a day, where they can see their teachers and classmates.
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The technology allows pupils to go into smaller virtual break-out rooms for group work or support from teaching assistants. Even music and PE lessons can be held live.
"We do absolutely appreciate the challenges that young people are under at the moment and we don't in any way under-estimate those," Mrs Willis said.
"We're trying to find really positive ways to make online learning work.
"In the first lockdown, we worked with static resources. Now, the teacher is present and delivering lessons live to pupils - that is a significant difference.
"We want children in school and we miss them being in school. It is the right place for them.
"However, we have found that children have responded really positively to the changes. We've had some fantastic work being produced.
"Our community has recognised that children still need to learn and they deserve an equality of learning.
"It's about removing those barriers and working together to still make sure they can achieve their best."
Some studies nationally have suggested that children might fall behind in their learning during the pandemic through not being in school.
While it is too early for Murrayfield to assess children's exact progress, Mrs Willis said: “We are incredibly proud of our teachers, pupils and their families who have all moved so quickly to make the most of new technology to ensure there has been no drop in the standards of teaching and learning.
"While schools continue to make the headlines almost daily during lockdown, we feel it’s important to reassure our community that it does not have to be a barrier for their children’s progress and in many ways can open up new opportunities to ensure all our pupils achieve their best.”
Murrayfield, which is run by the Paradigm Trust and is rated as "good" by Ofsted, also reaches out to families with weekly phone calls and home visits if necessary.