Fears Norfolk's children 'being left behind' due to lockdown digital divide

Fears Norfolk pupils are missing out on home-schooling during lockdown have been highlighted as the county has been ranked among the worst in England for internet access.

Norfolk was ranked in the lowest five percent in the country for the number of children living in homes with internet speeds below 10mbs - which is considered suitable for just one or two users.

Conversely, Luton was ranked in the top one percent. Just four out of 10,000 under-17s have no internet above 10mbs, according to a children's welfare watchdog.

The data, part of a study by the Children's Commissioner for England on vulnerabilities faced by the UK's youngsters during the Covid-19 crisis, has highlighted the issue of "digital inequality".

Figures for the Anglia region (Location - Percentage of children in households with no internet above 10mbps):

  • (England - 1.3 percent)

  • Norfolk - 3.2 percent

  • Essex - 2.3 percent

  • Northamptonshire - 1.9 percent

  • Suffolk - 1.8 percent

  • Cambridgeshire - 1.4 percent

  • Central Bedfordshire - 1.1 percent

  • Hertfordshire - 0.7 percent

  • Bedford Borough - 0.6 percent

  • Milton Keynes - 0.6 percent

  • Peterborough - 0.5 percent

  • Southend - 0.4 percent

  • Luton - 0.04 percent

Natasha Harpley, a district councillor in Norfolk, said: "Digital inequality is becoming an increasingly acute problem during school closures. On top of not having compatible devices in order to complete work set by schools, many families are struggling to even access it due to slow or no internet at all.

"This digital divide is even more pronounced in rural communities where broadband access can be very limited and across lower income groups which can simply not afford it.

Meanwhile, Cate Oliver, whose four children aged 5, 8, 12, and 18 are studying at home during the lockdown, said issues with technology were a challenge for homeschooling parents.

"I have got broadband at home, but it seems to cost a lot of money and it's not fantastic signal here," she said. "I know there are areas in the city which aren't great."

She added that while schools had been supportive, there were issues with devices not working, which meant her 12-year-old son had to use her phone to access his work.

She added: "My daughters have got a Kindle but the screen is quite broken so I have to sit with them and go through things. You don't want to be the only parent not making sure they're keeping up."

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said the council was working with schools to support vulnerable children and ensure they had access to technology.

"We have a long-standing process of supporting some vulnerable children to ensure that particularly looked after children and care leavers have access to the equipment they need to access education through the ACT scheme," he said.

"While this challenge is heightened in this unique situation, we're working with schools and families across the county to ensure as many children as possible have the technology needed to continue their education at home."

He added that the council was continuing to invest in better rural broadband access.