Education & Family

Internet gap hits poorer children, campaigners claim

Boy with laptop
Image caption One in ten pupils in the UK has no access to the internet at home

The education of 500,000 children in the UK is suffering because they have no home internet, campaigners say - with the poorest often most at risk.

Mind the Gap, a newly launched campaign group, says schools expect children to use the web at home for homework, revision and independent study.

The group is asking for corporate and individual donations to widen home access to the web.

It wants to extend internet access to 100,000 more children within a year.

In England, the campaign group will also encourage schools to use the pupil premium - a grant paid to schools by the government to help disadvantaged children - to buy equipment and pay for broadband connections.

A school whose pupils are all online at home will be recognised by Mind the Gap as "digitally inclusive", and the campaign will help schools that want to achieve the status to do so.

The group points out the correlation between poverty and poorer academic results.

Department for Education figures show that in 2012, only 37% of children in England eligible for free school meals got an A*-C grade in English and Maths GCSE, compared with 63% of all other children.

Upward trend

Matt Tavender is acting head of Cunningham Hill Junior School in St Albans, which is working with Mind the Gap.

He audited the school's 270 pupils and found children from 15 families had no internet access at home.

"It is 17 pupils at the moment," he says, "but our cohort is changing, and the trend seems to be upwards. Of the children we have identified, all have other barriers to learning."

He cites free school meal eligibility as an example of a "barrier".

He believes the internet is becoming ever more important for topic work.

"Children who don't have access to images they can use, and to word-processing, find it much harder," he says, but adds it is now also necessary for core skills such as arithmetic and spelling.

He also feels that children missing out on less directly educational applications of the internet are at an increasing disadvantage.

"Social media is so big now that children with no access to it are losing out on a really important skill for the modern world."

Vital skills

One of his pupils, 10-year-old Josie is able to use the family computer at home. She says she would not be able to do her homework without access to the web.

"I would have to write out everything by hand, and that would take ages. I use NumberGym for maths, and I Google things all the time for my other subjects."

She thinks computer skills will be vital for her when she goes to secondary school next year and, later, when she gets a job.

Mr Tavender is looking at ways of helping the families who are not yet online.

One solution might be to use the pupil premium to buy equipment which can be donated to families - and then to pay for broadband connections for them.

'Not a luxury'

The launch of the new campaign coincides with the release of research from a schools technology provider - Frog - that underlines the increasing importance of access to computers.

The company commissioned C3 Education to ask the views of members of the National Education Research Panel.

More than 300 heads of department responded, 98% of whom believed pupils without a home computer were "educationally disadvantaged", and that 63% said their pupils did not have "sufficient access to computers".

Frog's managing director, Gareth Davies, believes access to the internet and learning technology is no longer a luxury.

"It is an integral part of the teaching and learning process," he says. "Young people without access to equipment outside school are at a real disadvantage."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "It is vital that we do all we can to close the unacceptable gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. That is why we introduced the pupil premium - worth £2.5bn a year from this April. Schools are free to use the pupil premium in ways they think will most help disadvantaged children.

"We have also spent £125m to set up the Education Endowment Foundation - an independent charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement."

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