EDUCATION leaders in Hampshire welcomed ‘crucial’ equipment as more than 4,000 pupils in the area received laptops during lockdown to allow them to study remotely.

During the pandemic Hampshire County Council distributed 3,189 laptops and tablets to eligible students – including those with social workers and care leavers.

Nationally the Department for Education provided 200,000 devices to local authorities and school trusts between May and July, at a cost of £100m.

Hampshire County Council’s executive member for education and skills, Cllr Roz Chadd, added: "We worked closely with schools to allocate laptops and tablets, as soon as they were available, to all those pupils who were eligible through the government scheme.

"We very much welcomed this scheme, which helps address the increased likelihood of disadvantaged pupils falling further behind their peers in learning. We are also pleased to hear of the intended extension of the scheme to reach more pupils, across further age ranges, and will continue to do all we can to help pupils get back on track."

Though the devices were "very welcome", the Children's Commissioner Office estimated there are 540,000 children in groups eligible for the scheme, meaning many more missed out.

In addition, 20,000 were set aside for disadvantaged Year 10 pupils who were singled out because of concerns they would fall behind in preparing for their GCSEs in the coming school year – with 528 allocated in Hampshire.

But the Children's Commissioner Office said this overlooked the needs of disadvantaged children in every other year group, and even the Government's planned extension of the scheme to years 3-11 may be "insufficient".

Hampshire was also allocated 451 4G hotspot devices, and 224 for Year 10 students.

Turn2us, a charity which helps people living in poverty, said digital skills that help children prepare for adult life are more important than ever following the coronavirus lockdown.

Liam Evans, campaigns officer at Turn2us, said: "It is crucial that more computers are delivered to children who are living without.

"The Government have a moral duty to make sure all kids have an equal opportunity to thrive, and this is core to that."

A Department for Education spokesman said: “For disadvantaged children whose education is disrupted in autumn term, we are initially providing an additional 150,000 laptops and tablets to schools, who will be best placed to pass these on to children who need them.

“Children will be returning to school full time in September and we have invested £1 billion in a Covid Catch Up Fund which will also provide one-on-one and small group tutoring for disadvantaged pupils.”