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84% of schools with the poorest children lack devices to ensure their pupils can study at home if self-isolating

Teach First calls on large businesses and government to close the digital divide.

Four out of five (84%)* schools with the poorest pupils do not have enough devices and internet access to ensure all self-isolating pupils can keep learning, a new survey from the education charity Teach First has revealed.

This compares to two thirds (66%) of schools with the most affluent pupils, showing that while all schools continue to face significant digital barriers - it is the poorest pupils’ education that will suffer the most if self-isolating.

Furthermore, schools with the most affluent pupils are three times (29%) more likely to have been donated tech compared to schools with the poorest pupils (10%). 

Evidence already shows the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their richer peers widened during the first lockdown. The charity believes that, with over half of secondary schools having sent pupils home to self-isolate since September, the prospect of pupils falling behind further remains a serious concern.

The lack of devices and internet for some pupils means schools are having to dip into alternative budgets. Of the teachers who knew where money was coming from to pay for the gap in digital access for pupils:

  • more than a quarter (27%) of all state schools are using their reserve budgets – five times more likely than private schools (5%)
  • two in five (41%) schools with the poorest pupils are using their pupil premium
  • the most affluent state schools are three times as likely (29%) as the poorest (10%) to use donations, for example by businesses and Parent Teacher Associations

Using budget that hasn’t been specifically allocated for this urgent problem means almost half of state schools (47%) are going to have to reduce spending in other areas.  Of the schools which knew what they were going to cut:

  • almost a quarter (23%) of the schools with the poorest pupils will have to reduce spending on school trips to pay for devices and internet – nearly twice as likely as the most affluent (12%)
  • a fifth of all state schools (21%) will have to reduce spending on textbooks and libraries, with a similar figure for school maintenance and upkeep (20%)
  • 15% of state schools will have to reduce spending on Continuing Professional Development for teachers

While the government has already delivered over 300,000 devices to schools (see their August and October 2020 reports), Teach First are asking the government to increase the number of devices they are providing to pupils and schools in need. However, given the scale of this national issue, Teach First is also calling on large businesses to step up and work with charities and schools by donating the much-needed technology.

Teach First is working with large businesses in response to the pandemic such as IG Group, Amazon, BNP Paribas, Drax, Vodafone and DHL UK Foundation. This has included the distribution of over 1,800 devices and dongles to pupils and schools in disadvantaged communities.

Russell Hobby, Teach First CEO, said:

“This is a stark reminder of the significant challenges faced by schools serving disadvantaged communities. It’s not right that some children will fall further behind at school simply because their families can’t afford laptops and internet access.

“All schools are doing their best in a challenging environment, yet the choices they face to make ends meet are deeply worrying – particularly if they have to cut vital areas of education to keep up with this urgent problem.

“During this pandemic we all have a role to play and we’re calling on government and big businesses to help schools bridge this divide so that, despite the pandemic, we can unlock the potential in all children, not just some.”

Kathryn Hobbs, Headteacher of David Nieper Academy in Derbyshire, said:

“The scale of online device needs that this pandemic has brought is enormous. At our school we soon learnt pupils were using smartphones to complete homework rather than accessing the school’s online work platform on a suitable device. When it comes to schoolwork, a smartphone just isn’t sufficient – but the hard truth is that some families simply can’t afford the most appropriate IT equipment.

“Alongside the support from government, we are looking into our own budgets to ensure that our pupils have access to laptops and connectivity when learning in and out of school. For schools to continue to support all of their pupils throughout this pandemic, we need more access to IT devices, but looking into our budget there’s not enough money to meet the need. We would welcome additional help from businesses via Teach First so that nothing holds pupils back from their fundamental right to learn.” 



For interview, comment or case study requests, contact the Teach First media team at or call 0203 841 8483.


Notes to Editor

*All data included in the press release excludes Don’t Knows and Cannot Answers. 

The full data for the survey can be found here.


About Teacher Tapp

Teacher Tapp is a daily survey app that asks over 8,000 teachers questions each day and reweights the results to make them representative.


About Teach First

Teach First is an education charity with a mission to build a fair education for all. Through a range of school leadership programmes the charity supports teachers, leaders and schools facing the biggest challenges, serving the most disadvantaged communities.

The charity has now recruited over 14,000 teachers and leaders, has over 60 head teachers in their alumni and has supported over a million pupils.

Those on the Training Programme commit to a minimum of two years at their partner school, where they teach a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) timetable; and around half stay on for a third year. More than half of all the teachers who’ve completed training since 2003 are currently teaching.

The charity supports whole leadership teams through Leading Together. Develops individuals to become effective leaders through Middle Leader, Senior Leader and Headship programmes leading to a National Professional Qualification. And provides Career Leader training to develop a long-term, school wide careers strategy to improve student opportunities after school.

Teach First currently operates in Wales and in all regions across England: London, West Midlands, East Midlands, Yorkshire the Humber, North West, North East, South East, South Coast, South West and the East of England. 

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