Telecoms companies have extended their free data offer to young and disadvantaged students in further education just as they are about to return for face-to-face teaching.

It was announced by the government today that mobile providers including EE, Lycamobile, Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, Vodaphone and iD Mobile have all agreed to widen the offer beyond school-aged children.

The extension will now apply to students aged 16 to 19 and those aged 19 to 25 with an education, health and care plan.

In its weekly update, the Education and Skills Funding Agency said: “During the Covid-19 outbreak a number of mobile network operators are offering free data for financially disadvantaged families who do not have broadband at home and rely on mobile data to access the internet to help children participate in education remotely.

“Although, from the 8 March, the majority of students will be expected to return to onsite education, this offer may continue to be important for students who, for example, need to self-isolate or shield during this period.”

This means that FE providers who have registered with the government’s “Get Help with Technology Service” will be able to request free data for financially disadvantaged students who: do not have fixed broadband at home; cannot afford additional data for their devices; are experiencing disruption to face-to-face education.

The free data scheme was made available to school students to help them learn remotely during the national lockdown and is currently set to end in July.

Requests for free data must be made by someone in an FE provider who has been “nominated to order devices through the Get Help with Technology Service”, the ESFA said.

“Providers will need to submit student’s mobile information through our online service.”

The agency added that if increasing mobile data is not a suitable option for some young people, or if a request for additional data is unsuccessful, FE providers can also request 4G wireless routers.

And when providers request support, the Department for Education will “seek confirmation about how you have identified the number of disadvantaged students without broadband at home, who are experiencing disruption to their onsite education, through for example, contact with students/parents and/or surveys.

“In providing evidence of need you should not include any personal information about the students such as their names, addresses or date of birth.”

Today’s announcement comes six weeks after the DfE extended its free digital devices scheme to independent training providers.

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