When a Middlesbrough headteacher was asked how many devices were needed to ensure all pupils could continue learning during the lockdown, she hardly dared admit the answer.
After a quick survey of parents, she discovered that more than 50 families didn’t have the digital technology equipment required to enable their children to take part in live lessons.
But that didn’t faze generous local community organisation North Ormesby Big Local, who went even further by presenting St Alphonsus Catholic Primary School with 60 brand new Amazon Fire tablets.
“It’s absolutely wonderful,” said headteacher Angela McCann. “Karen O’Hara from the North Ormesby Big Local has been fantastic in liaising with the school.
“They approached us when we first went into lockdown and asked if we had enough devices for our children who needed them.
“We sent out a questionnaire to our parents to see how many we needed, and I hardly dared go back to them and say we needed about 50. But they have given us 60!
“Our children want to get on and learn but are struggling because they just don’t have the devices, or there are four of five children in a household sharing a phone and have to wait their turn for live lessons. This donation will make all the difference to those children.”
Big Local development officer Karen O’Hara said they were delighted to be able to help.
“We heard children were having problems getting into the school programme, so I rang Miss McCann to ask if there was anything we could do,” she said.
“I put her request for devices to the board and they totally wanted to support the school, just as we support anyone else in the area who is struggling.
“This is what Big Local is about, helping residents in our community. One of the main things we do is listen. It’s a residents’ project and if residents are in need we want to step in and support them.”
Mayor Andy Preston, who has championed the fight against digital poverty, was invited to join North Ormesby Big Local board members for the presentation. It was his second visit to the school after he came in to talk to Year 6 children last year.
He said: “Nothing is more important to our children than a solid education, and that’s never been more true than right now.
“The pandemic has hit schools hard, but we’re all determined that no child in Middlesbrough will be disadvantaged because they can’t get online.
“This amazing gesture will make a huge difference to many children and their families, and will benefit them for years to come.”
St Alphonsus, one of the 27 schools in the Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust, is situated in one of the most deprived areas in the country.
The school uses online platforms including Google Classrooms, Purple Mash and Tapestry to enable children to access their work and return it to staff to be marked and gain valuable feedback.
“We use these platforms to deliver live lessons and resources throughout each day and it’s vitally important for pupils to be able to access them,” said Miss McCann.
“We are having to stagger and limit live lessons across school to enable siblings to share the limited resources they have or to gain access to their parents’ phone to join lessons.
“Some don’t even have this and are relying on paper packs provided by school, with no live input. Now, thanks to this generous donation, they are equal to their peers and have the same opportunities as every other child.”
The tablets will soon be allocated and will be given out on home loan agreements.
North Ormesby Big Local gave out 120 comfort boxes to elderly people at Christmas, each containing a selection of treats and details of services that could provide additional help. They are currently putting together kindness boxes for parents who are suffering from stress during lockdown.