THOUSANDS of laptops and tablets have been given to disadvantaged children in the county during the pandemic.

Swindon has seen 1,538 devices handed to students, while across the rest of Wiltshire 3,458 were given out in the period up to April 8. 

The drive is part of the government’s Get Help with Technology scheme to aid learning at home.

A Swindon Borough Council spokesperson said: “It’s important that all children have access to a digital device at times when they need to learn remotely. The laptops and tablets provided to the schools will help to ensure that children can continue to learn when they are unable to do so in the classroom, which has been particularly important throughout the pandemic.

“The laptops also have the added benefit of giving the children access to online resources outside of school time”

As well as laptops and tablets, 122 4G wireless routers have been given to Swindon Borough Council to help families with limited internet access. And 168 4G wireless routers have been given to Wiltshire Council.

But not everyone is happy with the progress.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The government has been promising for months that it would deliver 1.3 million laptops to schools and we are now tantalisingly close to seeing that target achieved.

“We do not underestimate the scale of the government’s logistical operation, but the truth is they were slow to react in the first place, slow to get started, and progress since has been painfully slow.”

The number of laptops and tablets given to schools was decided by calculating how many children are eligible for free school meals and using an estimate of devices the school and children already have, though schools can request additional devices.

Royal Wootton Bassett Academy was given 12 laptops and one WiFi dongle for its 10 disadvantaged children in July last year. It was then given 72 more to cater to a larger number of students, while in February a further 100 laptops were given but these didn’t arrive until the last week of the most recent lockdown.

Head of the pupil premium Mary Jones said: “The main point with this is that we eventually got enough that meant we were able to help enough people to make this initiative impactful. But we received them in fits and starts, which meant students were struggling for longer than they should have been. 

"There is an assumption that schools like RWBA are in an affluent area, and therefore don’t experience the same problems as schools in more disadvantaged catchments, but it just isn’t true. It only makes the difference between low-income families and their peers more stark.”