Bedford’s chief education officer: “Remote learning has to happen for every pupil in our schools”

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Harpur Trust laptops
The Harpur Trust has worked with Bedford Borough Council and the High Sheriff to provide laptops to school children

As Bedford’s schools head once more into lockdown mode education chiefs want to make sure that all pupils have access to the internet.

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement just minutes away borough councillors met yesterday (Monday) to hear an update the impact on schools of Covid-19 (coronavirus).

“Remote learning has to happen for every pupil and the quality of remote learning should improve for all schools and for all pupils, that is critically important,” said Ben Pearson, the council’s chief officer for education, SEND and schools.

“We are challenging the Department for Education about the number of devices we were allocated.”

The Prime Minister told the nation that the Government will distribute more devices to support remote education, as well as giving extra support for those entitled to free school meals.

He announced that primary schools, secondary schools and colleges across England must again move to remote provision, except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

The PM added that everyone will still be able to access early years settings such as nurseries.

Mr Pearson told the children’s services overview and scrutiny committee that during the first lockdown the council only received 260 internet enabled devices to distribute to the most needy.

But the council and others stumped up extra resources to nearly double that to around 400.

“We’ve already distributed over 400 devices but we need more to distribute,” said Mr Pearson.

The council is this week asking the borough’s schools what the demand is for devices, with Mr Pearson suspecting that higher unemployment will mean it has risen since the first lockdown.

Chairing the committee Cllr Hilde Hendrickx (Lib Dem, Newnham) wondered whether the borough is “behind the curve” in providing devices, which would leave children without internet access.

Mr Pearson admitted it is a “challenge”.

“There is definitely still a demand out there for more so we will work with the Harpur Trust, with the High Sheriff and other local partners to make sure we get those devices to those most in need,” he said.

Welcoming the prospect of schools going into lockdown mode Cllr Carl Meader (Lab, Kempston South) said: “I’m of the view that with the infection rate so high and the vaccination rate starting to be rolled out, we should err on the side of caution and keep schools closed.”

by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter

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