Greater Manchester Technology Fund reaches digitally excluded pupils
Earlier this year, in response to the closure of schools across the country, Greater Manchester Combined Authority invested in over 500 kit bundles to be made available to disadvantaged and digitally excluded pupils, working closely with schools and colleges to identify those in most need.
The investment, which also saw further funding received from Virgin Media Business, was part of a new Greater Manchester Technology Fund aiming to provide learners at risk of digital isolation with the technology and connectivity needed to continue their learning at home while schools and colleges remain closed.
A ‘digital kit bundle’ includes a laptop and the required tools to get online and after rapidly launching the fund, the combined authority were able to work closely with schools and procurement partners to get around 600 kit bundles delivered to schools within weeks of launch.
It is estimated that levels of digital exclusion are up to four times higher amongst those schools with the highest level of pupils eligible for a free school meal, with 19% of pupils in Greater Manchester claiming free school meals. Provision of this kit initially focussed on recipients of free school meals, allowing these young people to continue their education from home, stay in touch with friends and family and provides teachers and tutors with a mechanism for support.
At the time of launch, Sean Fielding GMCA Lead for Education, Skills, Work and Apprenticeships and Oldham Council Leader, said: “We welcome the announcement from the Department for Education over weekend but need to go further and faster to help those most in need. Our young people, their parents and guardians need to feel assured their education will not suffer during this period of lockdown. We also hope these young learners will benefit through reconnecting with their peers and school network."
Through the first phase of the Greater Manchester Technology Fund, the schools in receipt of these kit bundles have told us students are now benefitting through the ability to take part more regularly in online lessons and lesson plans and are able to work independently to complete homework or research. Some schools have seen an improved engagement with teachers and tutors though regular ‘check ins’ and pastoral support and an increase in the number of hours of schoolwork completed.
At The Hathershaw College, Oldham one parent explained that access to this kit has had a ‘very positive impact’ on her sons learning and that they found the equipment ‘very straight forward to use’.
Andy Potts, Assistant Principal at The Hathershaw College said “Digital exclusion is always a consideration of ours, we need to ensure that pupils with limited or no access to a laptop or internet are not disadvantaged and that their ability to learn is not negatively impacted. In our school, the Greater Manchester Technology Fund has been an overwhelming success and I would like to say a huge thank you- it has been a wonderful opportunity at a time of need for some of our most disadvantaged pupils”.
GMCA have heard similar comments from other schools and had fantastic feedback on social media:
MCA would like to thank @GMCADigital #GMTechFund for helping us to keep our students learning during school closures. Today we received a gift of a selection of digital devices which will be put to good use in our community. #GMdigital pic.twitter.com/MKLH23DNbE— Manchester Communication Academy (@ManComAcademy) May 12, 2020
The first phase of the fund was made possible with funding from GMCA and Virgin Media Business (VMB), with the VMB investment being part of social value commitments the organisation made as part of the recently announced Local Full Fibre Networks Programme. Since, then funding was been received from ANS Group to further the reach of the Technology Fund and distribute further kit bundles to young people across the region.
GMCA are also hearing feedback that goes beyond the intial remit of the tech fund. Hazelwood High School told the authority: “One of our families suffered a small house fire at the start of lockdown. To be able to replace their fire damaged laptop made a huge difference to that student. The provision of MiFi connectivity was also of immense value to them as a family as their modem had also been destroyed in the fire.
We have also been able to connect some families, not only with their school work, but also to vital services to help vulnerable families, where English isn’t their first language. It is much easier to communicate electronically using translation software than it is on the phone”.
This fund supports Greater Manchester's existing commitment to provide essential digital skills to everyone, improve the digital capabilities of the region and strengthen the digital talent pipeline. Businesses are being asked to support the fund through:
- Donations of new devices particularly laptops
- Donations of sim cards, portable hotspots, dongles and other connectivity devices
- Financial donations to support the expansion of the fund
- Share! Promote the #GMTechFund through your social media channels
Kit bundles are then distributed through schools/colleges, prioritising those students most in-need and helping us bridge the digital divide in Greater Manchester.
If your organisation is interested in supporting the fund they can contact the GMCA Digital Team at GMCADigital@greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk
Article Published: 15/07/2020 10:25 AM