LABOUR politicians have written to the government over concerns some pupils in St Helens are being left behind due to widening inequalities.

The letter has been sent to under-fire Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson from Conor McGinn, MP for St Helens North, Marie Rimmer, MP for St Helens South and Whiston, Cllr David Baines, leader of St Helens Borough Council, Cllr Kate Groucutt, cabinet member for education, skills and business.

They have welcomed the national lockdown, but have warned a “growing digital divide” is causing some pupils to fall behind.

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The letter says “many local schools” have contacted them in recent days over a shortage of laptops, tablets and core IT equipment.

If the government fails to address this, they say, then it risks “exacerbating inequalities further.”

The letter says: “We acknowledge the negative impact of extended school closures on local children here in St Helens borough, and we know their well-being and education is best served when they are thriving in classrooms.

“Yet as a result of the government’s failure to control the virus, the vast majority of pupils are now not in such educational settings but learning remotely – where many face significant challenges.

“If remote learning is to continue and succeed, no child should be impeded by the injustices of the growing digital divide.

“This means all children – no matter their background or situation – must have access to proper IT equipment and the internet.

“Over recent days, we have been contacted by many local schools regarding a shortage of laptops, tablets and core IT equipment, which makes their ability to deliver and sustain remote learning very challenging at this time.

“Children without such devices will now already be falling behind in their learning, and failing to resolve these issues quickly and effectively only risks exacerbating inequalities further.”

Labour politicians have praised school staff for their efforts during the Covid crisis.

But they claim a lack of consistent guidance and a clear strategy on learning has “eroded” staff confidence.

“Local teachers and their colleagues nationwide have shown real dedication, resilience and professionalism throughout this crisis in their swift responses to difficult and unique challenges, all whilst acting in the best interests of their pupils,” the letter says

“Sadly, their vital efforts have been made tougher by a government whose lack of coherent messaging, consistent guidance, and a clear strategy on learning has since March resulted in chaos and confusion in our schools and colleges, and eroded staff confidence in your leadership.”

St Helens Star: Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education

Labour politicians make series of demands in the letter to Mr Williamson.

The government is asked to:

  • Provide access to a working device for every child who needs one.
  • Provide internet access for every child who needs it – for example through a rapid expansion of the Get Help with Technology
  • Stop data charges from pricing disadvantaged families out of education – for example by working to remove data charges by “zero-rating” educational websites and ensure school digital delivery is exempted from mobile and data packages wherever possible.
  • Redeploy officials and resources to specifically help identify and address technical support needs.
  • Work with us, our local schools, teachers and pupils to guarantee a minimum of teacher contact time.