Campaigners threaten government with legal action as one million children have no access to online lessons

George Martin
·2 min read
EMBARGOED TO 0001 SUNDAY JANUARY 10 File photo dated 21/08/14 of a child using a laptop computer. Campaigners are threatening legal action against the Government if it fails to step up its efforts to ensure all children can access remote education during the lockdown.
Millions of children are estimated to be without access to a laptop or tablet. (PA)

A campaign group is threatening to take legal action against the Department for Education (DfE) as around one million children have no access to online lessons.

The Good Law Project has highlighted concerns that children do not have access to the technology required for them to attend virtual classes.

It comes after education secretary Gavin Williamson told pupils in England to learn remotely until mid-February because of a recent spike in coronavirus cases.

Those who do not have access to technology can attend school in-person during the lockdown.

Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson, Conservative Party MP for South Staffordshire, returns to Downing Street from the weekly cabinet meeting, currently being held at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), in London, England, on November 10, 2020. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has advised pupils to stay at home and use remote learning until mid-February. (Getty)

But Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, says the move will mean millions of children are “forced” to go into school because of lack of access to laptops and tablets.

The legal campaign group, which has previously brought cases against Uber, says “parents should not have to choose between the education of their child and their family’s health”.

“We all know that health outcomes for working class and BAME families are especially poor,” Maugham said.

Read more: Headteachers' anger at being unable to order pupils' laptops for remote learning

“Forcing children of those families to go into school at the height of a pandemic because government can’t or won’t provide devices for them looks suspiciously like sacrificing their health to protect its reputation.”

The campaigners have issued a pre-action letter, the step before formal proceedings begin, to Williamson on Thursday.

The government has seven days to respond setting out a timeline for action.

Watch: Gavin Williamson confirms A-Levels and GCSEs will not go ahead

Government guidance says vulnerable children should be strongly encouraged to attend school during the lockdown, but parents who choose to keep children out of class will not be penalised.

In response to concerns that many pupils also lack a suitable device in order to study remotely, the DfE has said it will deliver 100,000 laptops to students this week, with 50,000 sent to schools for distribution on Monday alone.

It is part of a scheme to distribute one million devices to students by the end of the academic year, which the DfE said had already seen 560,000 sent out by the end of 2020.

According to estimates from Ofcom, between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children in the UK (9%) do not have home access to a laptop, desktop or tablet, and that more than 880,000 children live in a household with only a mobile internet connection.

A DfE spokesman said: “We are acutely aware of the additional challenges faced by disadvantaged children during this crisis and have put in place measures to mitigate the impact on them.”