A COUNCILLOR has called for laptops and free broadband to be provided "urgently" to all disadvantaged children in the county.

The third national lockdown means schools have closed for most children in the county with teaching moving online until at least mid-February.

Labour county councillor Peter McDonald said every disadvantaged child in Worcestershire should be given laptops to help them learn home.

Worcestershire County Council said it has already provided more than 1,000 laptops and is working on providing more.

Cllr McDonald said the council is currently "failing" some of the most vulnerable children by refusing to provide them with the equipment they need.

"The county council is failing our children’s education by refusing to give laptops out to those in desperate need of them," he said.

"About nine per cent of children in Britain do not have home access to a computer or tablet and more than 880,000 children live in a household with only a mobile internet connection, Ofcom has estimated.

"We have situations in our own county where one member of the family is shielding and yet a family member is being forced to go to school and put the family member at risk, or stop at home and miss out on their education.

"All because the school and the county will not provide a laptop: putting the member of the family who is shielding at serious risk.

"No wonder concerns are being raised over the digital divide among pupils during lockdown.

"No child should be deprived of an education because their parents can’t afford to purchase a laptop or the broadband costs.

"Therefore, as the opposition’s education spokesperson, I am calling for every disadvantaged child to urgently receive a laptop and free broadband, as most will be learning remotely until at least February half-term."

Cllr Marcus Hart, cabinet member for education, said: “Worcestershire County Council and Worcestershire Children First have provided over 1,000 laptops and devices for vulnerable learners and children from low income families in line with government guidance.

"This is in addition to devices provided directly to schools by the Department for Education through their IT device rollout to support children who were learning at home when self-isolating.

"We are continuing to work with the Department for Education and schools to ensure that children and young people can access remote education if their face-to-face education is disrupted."

"This week I welcomed the announcement that a new government scheme has been launched which temporarily increases data allowances for mobile phone users on certain networks. Schools can request mobile data increases when they report a closure or have pupils self-isolating, including those pupils who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

"I would encourage any parents and carers who are experiencing difficulties accessing remote education to contact their school to discuss requirements.”

Rachel Maclean, MP for Redditch, said: “With schools moving to online learning, it’s vital everyone has access to the devices they need. That’s why I’ve been in touch with the County Council & Redditch headteachers about the laptops & devices they need for students who don’t have access to one at home.

“I know laptops have already been distributed via the Department for Education’s scheme. I’m urgently working to ensure every student who needs a laptop gets one.”