Vodafone UK is giving free connectivity to 250,000 children across the UK to help them access school work from home, catch up on lost learning during school holidays, and continue with their education if they are required to isolate.
The Vodafone schools.connected support – in the form of data SIMs – is available to primary and secondary schoolchildren in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Schools can order the data SIMs to give to pupils who find it difficult to access education from home because they don’t have the right connectivity. Each SIM has a 30GB data allowance valid for 90 days.
The launch of this emergency package follows consultation with head teachers and education trusts, who report that many children are struggling to access education from home due to a lack of connectivity. As an example, almost 2,000 SIMs have already been requested by the Nottingham Schools Trust for children in 34 schools across the region.
The need to keep children connected to education has never been more important. The National Foundation for Educational Research estimates that children in England are at least three months behind in their studies due to COVID-19 restrictions, with disadvantaged pupils being among the worst hit. It also reports that teachers in the most deprived schools (those with the greatest proportion of pupils on free school meals) were more than three times as likely to say their pupils were at least four months behind, compared with those in wealthier schools.
Nick Jeffery, CEO, Vodafone UK, said: “Our focus throughout this crisis has been keeping the UK connected. We know many hundreds of thousands of children in the UK can’t access education from home because they don’t have the right connectivity – this means children already at a disadvantage could fall further behind.
“We want to help and so have created this emergency support package for 250,000 children and young people. We encourage schools to apply to the Vodafone schools.connected programme as soon as possible.
“Together, we can ensure no child is left behind.”
Sarah Fielding, Chief Executive of the Nottingham Schools Trust, said: “While we’ve had some support from the Government for laptops and tablets, securing the necessary connectivity is a huge challenge. We are delighted with the Vodafone schools.connected support and believe this free connectivity will have a hugely positive impact on the learning and future outcomes of some of our most in-need pupils.”
James Turner, CEO at social mobility charity The Sutton Trust, said: “Our research has shown that the digital divide – including a lack of internet connection – was one of the major factors that affected disadvantaged pupils’ learning while schools were shut.
“This is a welcome initiative that will help thousands of children to keep up with their schoolwork over the next few months. It is so important that every child has the resources required to continue their education, and this scheme will help prevent many from falling further behind.”
Last week, Vodafone launched a new plan to help people who have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 and renewed its offer of free unlimited data for all NHS workers until 31 January 2021.
Schools can apply for the Vodafone schools.connected connectivity from today by completing an online form.