Vodafone UK has pledged to give free connectivity to 250,000 disadvantaged school children this winter – to give them internet access at home.
It will allow them to access schoolwork, catch up on lost learning and continue their education if they need to isolate.
The launch of the emergency package – SIMs with a 30GB data allowance, valid for 90 days – follows consultation with head teachers and education trusts, who highlighted home connectivity as a major concern.
Vodafone UK CEO, Nick Jeffery, said: “Our focus throughout this crisis has been keeping the UK connected.
“We know many hundreds of thousands of children in the UK can’t access education from home because they don’t have the right connectivity – this means children already at a disadvantage could fall further behind.
“We want to help and so have created this emergency support package for 250,000 children and young people.
“We encourage schools to apply to the Vodafone schools.connected programme; together, we can ensure no child is left behind.”
Radio 1 presenter and 2019 Strictly Come Dancing contestant, Dev Griffin, is working with Vodafone to launch the schools.connected campaign.
He said: “I think this is so important because these are your formative years. This is when you find out what you’re interested in and what your passions are.
“If you don’t have access to that course or that article that might spark that interest, I almost feel like you’re limiting your future a little bit.”
The National Foundation for Educational Research estimates that children in England are at least three months behind in their studies due to Covid-19 restrictions, with disadvantaged pupils among the worst hit.
It also reports that teachers in the most deprived schools (those with the greatest proportion of pupils on free school meals) were more likely to say their pupils were at least four months behind, compared with those in wealthier schools.
Sarah Fielding, chief executive of the Nottingham Schools Trust, said: “While we’ve had support from the Government to buy laptops and tablets – which is always welcome – securing the necessary connectivity is always a huge challenge.
“We are thrilled with the support Vodafone is providing and believe this connectivity will have a hugely positive impact on the learning and future outcomes of some of our most disadvantaged pupils.
“We recommend schools submit an application to the programme as soon as possible.”