DfE to launch online portal for colleges to apply for free student laptops

Thousands of disadvantaged students across the country are being offered free laptops and tablets to continue learning at home during the coronavirus lockdown.

From next week, schools and colleges will be allowed to put business cases forward via an online portal to the Department for Education for individual students.

Those eligible include children with a social worker, care leavers, pupils in year 10 and 16 to 19s that do not already have access to the devices and whose family can’t afford the costs.

Apprentices are not eligible as they’re on waged training, the DfE said.

Laptops can already be bought for sixth form and college students through the 16 to 19 bursary fund, which typically grants eligible learners £1,200 to use for educational equipment and costs of travel.

The DfE said they will provide millions in extra funding in addition to the bursary fund for this scheme, but could not put an exact figure on it.

A spokesperson added that schools and colleges will be able to keep their laptops and tablets once they have reopened.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said schools and colleges will remain closed “until the scientific advice changes”, which is “why we need to support the incredible work teachers are already doing to ensure children continue to receive the education they deserve and need”.

“By providing young people with these laptops and tablets and enabling schools to access high quality support, we will enable all children to continue learning now and in the years to come,” he added.

As well as the devices, the government has promised to provide 4G routers where those families do not already have mobile or broadband internet in the household.

Major telecommunications providers have also promised to temporarily exempt websites with “selected educational resources” from data charges.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the support.

He said education providers have already been doing a “fantastic job” in supporting children who do not have access to these devices by providing resources such as learning packs which they can use at home.

“But these young people are currently unable to access the wealth of resources which are accessible online and the provision of laptops and tablets is crucial in supporting them through this difficult period.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, which represents school leaders, said that a project of this scale will require “careful planning and there are significant logistical challenges to be overcome, not least the speed at which these devices can be sourced and delivered”.

“If successful, the scheme could make a real difference to many disadvantaged young people in the coming months,” he added.

The DfE said they do not have a fixed launch date for the portal, which is being set up on gov.uk, but they expect it to go live in the coming days.

They could not say at this stage how long the laptops will take to deliver from the point of application.