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DfE faces legal action over health risks posed to vulnerable children learning in school

Vulnerable children will be exposed to further Covid-related health risks due to the government’s failure to ensure all vulnerable children can learn at home, an organisation has warned.

The Good Law Project, a not-for-profit membership organisation that uses the law to protect the interests of the public, states that while poorer and BAME families are exposed to higher Covid-19 risks, the government’s continuing failure to arrange for the children of those families to be educated online, they will be exposed to further health risks.

Their children will have to attend school while wealthier families, who can afford devices and broadband access for their children, can remain at home.

A statement from The Good Law Project states: “To cover his own failure, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson issued new guidance saying children who cannot learn remotely “due to a lack of devices…should attend school or college”.

“It might be cheaper and more convenient for the Education Secretary, but by forcing poorer kids to go into schools he is putting families and communities in danger. Parents should not have to choose between the education of their child and their family’s health,” the statement added.

The Good Law Project launched legal action in April last year to force the government to ensure all children could learn online. However, that litigation was pulled after the government provided assurances that it would provide laptops and wireless routers to disadvantaged children.

Despite this, 10 months later, hundreds of thousands of children are still without the ability to learn at home. The Education Secretary says he’s ordered a million laptops although only 560,000 have been delivered. Even when the remainder are delivered, there will still be a significant shortfall – Ofcom estimates there are 1.7m children without devices and 880,000 of them live in a home with only a mobile internet connection.

The Good Project has launched judicial review proceedings to challenge the following ongoing government failures:

- to ensure adequate devices are provided to those who require them, in a timely fashion.

- to set out clearly in its new guidance that bringing children into school during the current period purely because of a lack of devices (or data) should be a last resort.

- to ensure that educational websites, including the taxpayer-funded Oak National Academy, are exempt from data charge.

- to conduct adequate assessments of the impact of school closures upon disadvantaged children, and to put in place resulting contingency plans and mitigating measures.

The Good Law Project has instructed Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Adam Wagner and Dan Rosenberg of Simpson Millar all of whom will work at considerably below market rates.

“Thanks to this government’s ineptitude, the children who were most likely to have lost out on education in previous lockdowns are once again finding themselves slipping further behind their classmates. According to the National Federation for Educational Research, the average learning lost by all pupils in the first lockdown was three months, but at schools in the most deprived areas the majority of pupils lost four months or more. The impact will last for years,” the statement continued.

“We all saw the second wave coming – and we cannot understand this continued failure to make provision for the most vulnerable. Forcing working class and BAME kids to go into school at the height of a pandemic because government can’t or won’t provide devices for them looks suspiciously like sacrificing their health to protect its reputation,” the statement concluded.

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