Ann Coffey


Disgrace of the digital divide affecting children’s education

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It’s the start of a new school year, and for children who live in Brinnington, moving up from primary to secondary school means travelling to one of three secondary schools out of the area – Werneth, Harrytown or Reddish Vale. Problems with transport to school have been at the heart of the poor attendance of many Brinnington children and I have worked hard, with local Councillors, to get something done about it.

The Brinnington Education Achievement Partnership (BEAP) helped resolve the transport problem by using the local library computers to help children apply for their bus passes over the summer holidays – processing 145 bus passes last year. School attendance went up and the children’s exam results started to catch up.

This project was set up in 2009 with funding from the last Labour government to tackle educational disadvantage. It has helped Brinnington secondary school pupils reach their potential by working with children one-to-one, running maths and English classes in the school holidays and a homework study lounge in the library. Sadly, the funding ran out and, despite our best efforts, including my approach to the Schools Minister, the project was closed in April 2014.

Back in April I warned the Council that there would be a shortfall in the numbers of bus pass applications now that the BEAP has closed. I was assured that the arrangements to support pupils with bus passes would be continued.

Unfortunately this has not happened. At the time of writing this column I have discovered that bus pass applications have dropped dramatically, with only 26 received compared with 130 for Werneth last year. The Council’s online application process is a nightmare for many families who can’t afford a broadband package – and families who can are finding it difficult to navigate. So yet again we have a digital divide, deepening inequalities.

Beginning secondary school is such a crucial time for children. A good start is important because our children only get one chance to get a good education. It’s a disgrace that the Council has failed in this most basic job – ensuring children can get to school so they can start to learn. I am demanding that the education authorities contact all the families concerned and work with them to ensure that bus passes are in place and that this fiasco is not repeated next year.