The 80% cuts to device allocations were said to be due to the fall in Covid-19 infections in schools over the summer and because of global demand for digital devices exceeding supply. But the cuts were announced hours after schools closed for half term and just one day after the department placed a legal duty on schools to provide remote education to all students missing school as a result of Covid-19. This left many schools unable to meet their legal obligations, despite having previously received assurances their orders would be met.
DfE spokespeople claimed the department had changed its approach so that ‘allocations are more effectively targeted to the children, schools and areas of the country that have the greatest need.’
Schools argued that DfE figures relating to the number of devices schools already held were wildly overstated, whereas the number of children needing help was far greater than the government calculated. The government said it had based its figures on the numbers of disadvantaged children between years 3 and 11, which schools disputed. The department’s projections also failed to heed warnings that a second wave of infections was on the way.
Beyond these debates, the DfE admitted that their favoured contractor, Computacenter, had been unable to fulfil requirements to the tune of tens of thousands despite receiving almost £100 million from the government. Computacenter, whose founder Private Eye had exposed as a major Conservative Party donor last year, said that there had been a huge surge in demand for the type of laptops schools required and that other nations had bought up remaining stocks before the company had submitted its orders.
On 10 December, however, the company said that it had secured another 96,000 units and the DfE announced that allocations are to be restored to the levels requested by schools before September.
The department says schools can place new orders until the afternoon of 17 December provided that they can receive them by 6pm the following evening. The order book will re-open on 4 January if schools require further help.