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Norfolk pupils 'losing out in lockdown due to internet connections', research suggests

Fears Norfolk pupils are missing out on home-schooling during lockdown due to poor internet access have been highlighted as a watchdog ranked the county in the bottom five per cent across England.

Norfolk was ranked in the lowest five per cent 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.

The county was also ranked in the lowest eight per cent for the numbers of children living in homes with internet below 2mbs, according to a children’s welfare watchdog.

A new study suggests poor digital connectivity may be hampering efforts to homeschool Norfolk children during the lockdown.
A new study suggests poor digital connectivity may be hampering efforts to homeschool Norfolk children during the lockdown.

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” amid fears that children from the poorest families risk “being left behind.”

The figures reveal:

• 3.2pc of under-17s have no internet above 10mbs, compared to 1.3pc nationally,

• 7.8pc of 0-1-year-olds live with a parent suffering domestic abuse, compared to 7.1pc nationwide,

• And 5pc of children aged 0-1 live with a parent who is alcohol or drug dependent, compared to 4.4pc across England.

But the county ranked well for housing, with just 2.3pc of Norfolk homes deemed overcrowded versus 4.6pc nationally.

Children’s commissioner Anne Longfield said: “The coronavirus emergency has put hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children in England at heightened risk.

“While the government’s decision to keep schools open for the most vulnerable children is welcome, sadly most of them are just not showing up.

“They are most likely at home, often exposed to a cocktail of secondary risks – a lack of food in the house, sofa-surfing or cramped living conditions, neglect, or experiencing acute difficulties due to domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health issues.

“Our figures on local need lay bare the extent and nature of child vulnerability and the extraordinary pressures on some councils to try to protect them all.

“It is essential that children who need help are identified and given the help they need.”

It comes as a national children’s charity expands its helpline after receiving its highest number of calls this year, with a 10pc spike in calls about domestic violence.

The government has given the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) £1.6m in funding to support the expansion and run a nationwide campaign to support those harmed during lockdown.

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.”

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

• The council has launched a campaign to protect vulnerable children, called See Something, Hear Something, Say Something. Anyone with concerns about a child or family, should contact the County Council on 0344 800 8020. In an emergency contact the police on 999. In a non-emergency the police can be contacted on 101. Any children that need help can also call Childline on 0800 1111.

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