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Cambridge head warns of huge attainment gap for kids with no computer

A Cambridge headteacher has warned that schools may still not be able to return fully in September and is worried there will be a “huge chasm” between disadvantaged and more affluent children.

Chris Tooley, Netherhall School principal, said around a quarter of children at his school are classed as disadvantaged and believes many are being unfairly hit by school closures as they don’t have access to a computer.

He is aiming to raise £10,000 to buy at least 100 Raspberry Pi computers, plus a monitor, keyboard and mouse to try to bridge that gap.

Chris Tooley, The Netherhall School. Picture: Keith Heppell. (36340561)
Chris Tooley, The Netherhall School. Picture: Keith Heppell. (36340561)

“What’s become clear is when students are taken out of school and are removed from the relationships with staff and personal support networks, what starts as an attainment gap can quickly become a chasm,” Mr Tooley said. “Some families have their own Apple Mac laptop and have no problem accessing online learning. But in other families the children don’t have any wifi access or there are four children using an old tablet device or trying to do their homework on a phone. There is a massive disparity between these groups.

“In April the government announced laptops for disadvantaged students in Year 10, of which we have 27. We have received an allocation of 13 devices but we are still to be advised of a delivery date.”

He added: “For some of those children, we will invite them to work in school with supervision to get over that gap. One thing we know for sure is that without a device there is no way, even if they want to, they can participate in online learning.

“It’s ironic, here we are in Cambridge with the Science Park, the Biomedical Campus, and the university, that we have students who don’t have access to a computer.

“We have been delivering many live lessons where children log in and they can ask questions of the teacher. We are trying to build relationships and keep in touch, but what’s hindered us is in our analysis of our 850 students is that 100 don’t have access to a computer.”

A Raspberry Pi starter kit (36383240)
A Raspberry Pi starter kit (36383240)

Mr Tooley has joined up with Cambs Youth Panel to raise money to buy the needed computers and so far the school has managed to find almost £9,000, which would pay for more than 80 machines. But there is another problem. Health secretary Matt Hancock has suggested that schools still may not fully reopen in September, which means more Nethehrall students in need of help.

Mr Tooley said: “We know that in September we will have around 40 students from disadvantaged backgrounds arriving in Year 7. It is very likely that schools will not be completely back to normal then and that there may still be some work from home required. My hope is we can buy those students a computer and give it to them on day one so that they have the same access to learning as everyone else.”

Even more pressing is the need for disadvantaged children to maintain their relationships with school.

“We’ve been in contact with every single child at least once a week and for some children we’ve called them every day,” he said. “We are trying to bridge that gap and give students something they can keep that will demonstrate to them the care the school community has for them and show that we want to invest in them as a person. We can try to undo that damage.”

To donate to The Netherhall School appeal, visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/netherhall-computers-for-students

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