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Fears Norfolk’s children ‘being left behind’ due to lockdown digital divide

PUBLISHED: 07:00 05 May 2020

Fears Norfolk pupils are missing out on home-schooling during lockdown due to poor internet access have been highlighted. Pictured, a father and his daughter using a computer. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Fears Norfolk pupils are missing out on home-schooling during lockdown due to poor internet access have been highlighted. Pictured, a father and his daughter using a computer. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Fears digital divide risks Norfolk pupils ‘being left behind’ during lockdown Fears Norfolk pupils are missing out on home-schooling during lockdown due to poor internet access have been highlighted as a watchdog ranked the county in the bottom 5pc across England.

Norfolk was ranked in the lowest 5pc in the country for the number of children living in homes with internet speeds below 10mbs - which is considered suitable for just one or two users.

The county was also ranked in the lowest 8pc for the numbers of children living in homes with internet below 2mbs, according to a children’s welfare watchdog.

READ MORE: Concerns that only small number of vulnerable children are at school

The data, part of a study by the Children’s Commissioner for England on vulnerabilities faced by the UK’s youngsters during the Covid-19 crisis, has highlighted the issue of “digital inequality”, with a councillor warning that children from the poorest families risk “being left behind.”

Natasha Harpley, Labour councillor for Sprowston Central. Photo: ArchantNatasha Harpley, Labour councillor for Sprowston Central. Photo: Archant

The figures reveal:

• 3.2pc of under-17s have no internet above 10mbs, compared to 1.3pc nationally,

• 7.8pc of 0-1-year-olds live with a parent suffering domestic abuse, compared to 7.1pc nationwide,

• And 5pc of children aged 0-1 live with a parent who is alcohol or drug dependent, compared to 4.4pc across England.

Fears Norfolk pupils are missing out on home-schooling during lockdown due to poor internet access have been highlighted. Pictured, a mother and her son using a computer. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphotoFears Norfolk pupils are missing out on home-schooling during lockdown due to poor internet access have been highlighted. Pictured, a mother and her son using a computer. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

But the county ranked well for housing, with just 2.3pc of Norfolk homes deemed overcrowded versus 4.6pc nationally.

But Sprowston district councillor Natasha Harpley, said: “Digital inequality is becoming an increasingly acute problem during school closures. On top of not having compatible devices in order to complete work set by schools, many families are struggling to even access it due to slow or no internet at all.

“This digital divide is even more pronounced in rural communities where broadband access can be very limited and across lower income groups which can simply not afford it.

“Ultimately this means that some children are sadly being left behind and as ever, it will be the poorest families who will be hardest hit”.”

READ MORE: Campaign to protect children during coronavirus lockdown

While Cate Oliver, whose four children aged 5, 8, 12, and 18 are studying at home during the lockdown, said issues with technology were a challenge for home schooling parents.

“I have got broadband at home but it seems to cost a lot of money and it’s not fantastic signal here,” she said. “I know there are areas in the city which aren’t great.”

And she said while schools had been supportive, there were issues with devices not working, which meant her 12-year-old son was using her phone to access his schoolwork.

Cate Oliver, who is also a Norwich councillor, is homeschooling her four children. Photo: ArchantCate Oliver, who is also a Norwich councillor, is homeschooling her four children. Photo: Archant

She added: “My daughters have got a Kindle but the screen is quite broken so I have to sit with them and go through things.

“You don’t want to be the only parent not making sure they’re keeping up.”

READ MORE: Concerns that only small number of vulnerable children are at school

Children’s commissioner Anne Longfield said: “The coronavirus emergency has put hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children in England at heightened risk.

“While the government’s decision to keep schools open for the most vulnerable children is welcome, sadly most of them are just not showing up.

“They are most likely at home, often exposed to a cocktail of secondary risks - a lack of food in the house, sofa-surfing or cramped living conditions, neglect, or experiencing acute difficulties due to parental domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health problems, or caring for parents or siblings themselves.

“Our figures on local need lay bare the extent and nature of child vulnerability in each area, and the extraordinary pressures on some councils to try and protect them all.

“It is essential that children who need help are identified and given the help they need.”

It comes as a national children’s charity expands its helpline service after receiving its highest weekly number of calls so far this year, with a 10pc spike in calls relating to domestic violence.

The government has given the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) £1.6m in funding to support the expansion and run a nationwide campaign to support those harmed during lockdown.

READ MORE: Campaign to protect children during coronavirus lockdown

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said the council was working with schools to support vulnerable children and ensure they had access to technology.

“We have a long-standing process of supporting some vulnerable children to ensure that particularly looked after children and care leavers have access to the equipment they need to access education through the ACT scheme,” he said. “While this challenge is heightened in this unique situation, we’re working with schools and families across the county to ensure as many children as possible have the technology needed to continue their education at home.”

And he added that the council was continuing to invest in better rural broadband access.

• The council has launched a campaign to protect vulnerable children, called See Something, Hear Something, Say Something. Anyone with concerns about a child or family, should contact the County Council on 0344 800 8020. In an emergency contact the police on 999. In a non-emergency the police can be contacted on 101. Any children that need help can also call Childline on 0800 1111.


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