The government faces a legal challenge as activists say children from low-income and Black, Asian and minority (Bame) families are “forced” into school during England’s lockdown.
The challenge comes as schools across the country have moved online only until at least mid-February, with only the children of key workers and vulnerable students allowed to attend in person.
According to government guidelines, schools should “strongly encourage” vulnerable children to attend classes, which could include “students who may have difficulty engaging in distance education at home” due to ‘a lack of devices or a quiet space to study.
The Good Law Project has launched a lawsuit over the guidelines that it says “require working class and Bame children to attend school at the height of a deadly pandemic,” while those who can afford devices can stay at home.
“We all know that the health outcomes of working class and Bame families are particularly poor,” said Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the organization.
“Forcing the children of these families to go to school at the height of a pandemic because the government cannot or will not provide them with devices is eerily like sacrificing their health to protect its reputation.”
The Good Law Project said it has also taken legal action over the government’s “failure” to ensure that all children can access online education.
The Department of Education (DfE) said last weekend it had delivered 560,000 laptops and devices to schools to support distance learning, with 100,000 more expected to arrive this week, and was on the on track to reach its target of 1 million delivered by the end of the academic year.
According to Ofcom estimates, between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children in the UK do not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet at home.
But the directors said The independent it was not explicitly clear in the early locking guidelines that children without a device could fall into the vulnerable category, and concerns have been raised as to what this would mean in practice for the number of schools.
The Good Law Project launched a court challenge last spring to ensure access to e-learning for all children, but said it had withdrawn that litigation after receiving assurances from the government that disadvantaged children would get laptops and wireless routers.
A DfE spokesperson said: “We are keenly aware of the additional challenges facing disadvantaged children during this crisis and have put in place measures to mitigate their impact. This includes purchasing over a million laptops and tablets for schools and colleges to distribute, and partnering with the UK’s leading mobile network operators to provide free data to underprivileged families, which will facilitate access to educational resources. ”
“We have continuously assessed the impact of national restrictions and access to education on all students. As part of this effort, we commissioned an independent research and assessment agency to provide a baseline remedial needs assessment and track progress during the year to help us target support. ”
They added: “Schools were closed to most students during the lockdown not because they are not safe, but because the government is taking all possible measures to reduce cases in the community and protect the community. NHS. They offer students online courses that meet the enhanced minimum standards for distance learning. ”