Pupils can now get their education back on track thanks to a chemical company’s generous act of kindness.
St Peter’s Catholic College in South Bank has taken delivery of £10,000 worth of brand-new laptops for children who haven’t been able to access online learning, after a donation from SABIC arranged by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP).
The government has announced plans for a wider laptop distribution scheme but pupils in 18 households will not have to wait any longer to join their school friends online.
The college’s head of pastoral Justin Tattersall said the gift could prove to be life-changing for the children involved.
“A fifth of our pupils are working on paper-based resources only, so they can’t access Google Classroom in the way we would like them to,” he said. “That’s more than 100 children and presents a massive challenge.
“They are currently excluded from the opportunities other children have and this will help us bridge that gap. On top of the equipment the government are hoping to provide, it will enable us to make a massive improvement in the quality of learning for so many children.
“We’re so grateful that despite facing their own challenging circumstances, as all of us do right now, everyone involved has taken the time to think about other people and really embody the message of loving your neighbour.”
Mr Tattersall praised former Redcar MP Anna Turley for her role in brokering the deal.
“Anna knows that St Peter’s is in one of the most deprived wards in the country and when SABIC said they would like to donate £10,000, she immediately called us,” he said. “After a number of conversations, it was quickly confirmed we were to receive 18 laptops, which was just brilliant.”
NPP is a non-political organisation chaired by former chancellor George Osborne and includes business and civic leaders all working together to try to make the north of England more successful.
It has been lobbying the government since the crisis began to demand more help for children who don’t have access to IT equipment at home, as well as working to find ways to ensure they don’t fall further behind their better-off peers while schools are closed.
Director Henri Murison said: “Businesses across the Northern Powerhouse have stepped up to support disadvantaged children and enable them to maintain their learning while the schools are shut. It is particularly critically important in the north where disadvantage perpetuates the north-south divide in educational terms.
“The funding SABIC have provided will go a significant way to ensuring that some of our most disadvantaged pupils on Teesside don’t miss out on their education at a critical time.”
“To have the ability to learn at home while the schools are closed is hugely important. But we have an opportunity here to narrow the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers to allow them to catch up.
“We now need the government to provide a catch-up premium – funding of £700 per child for disadvantaged children – to make sure that the attainment gap is tackled once and for all.”
St Peter’s is part of Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust, a family of 26 schools across Teesside and North Yorkshire. Chief operating officer Hugh Hegarty said he was “amazed” by SABIC’s act of generosity.
“We’re very grateful for this contribution at a very difficult challenging time for companies,” he said. “It’s a reflection of the wonderful community spirit on Teesside that SABIC and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership wanted to help children they know are extremely vulnerable.”
And the school’s interim headteacher Neil Skerry added: “We are enormously grateful for the generosity of this donation at a time when many of our students and families will be struggling to adapt to the pressures of home learning.
“These students will now have access to the best technological support to enable them to maintain progress alongside their more advantaged peers.”
NPP says children from disadvantaged backgrounds leave school on average 18 months behind non-disadvantaged peers and warns that the school closures will only make this worse.
It is campaigning for the introduction of a “catch-up premium” when schools reopen, directing funds at secondary schools with the highest numbers of long-term disadvantaged children. It says an initial nationwide budget of around £300m – around £700 per eligible pupil – is needed to help children catch up.
Daren Smith, SABIC’s site director, said: “SABIC know that it is more important than ever that we come together at this time and help each other. That is why we have been delighted to work with the Northern Powerhouse Partnership to provide the funding for these laptops, knowing they will benefit some of the children in our community that need them most.
“Like many other businesses, supporting our communities is at the core of SABIC’s response to help fight the battle against COVID-19.
“We are proud to have a comprehensive CSR programme in place, from donating SABIC materials and PPE to helping local food banks, protecting the health and mental wellbeing of vulnerable groups or ensuring that children can still learn and access the online resources they need.”
Other companies that can provide either surplus laptops or funding can contact NPP on by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or contacting them on Twitter at @NP_Partnership.