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Praise for Hungerford's community spirit over school laptop appeal

83 new laptops are to awarded to pupils in need following public appeal

The head of John O'Gaunt School has praised the town's community spirit after 83 new laptops were secured for online learning during lockdown.

And town mayor Helen Simpson said: "I never fail to get that warm, fuzzy feeling when wonderful things happen like this in our special community.

"Eighty-three families helped… that's just incredible. Huge congratulations Team Hungerford."

As in the first lockdown, school work is set and conducted via Microsoft Teams in live, interactive or recorded lessons.

Head of school Richard Hawthorne said: "A recent survey of parents' and students' views of our remote provision was extremely positive.

"It's clear that students who are accessing online learning feel that they are getting a challenging, effective and engaging education from [the school] with the vast majority of lessons delivered live."

However, he added: "Despite our best efforts, we're aware that this only widens the gap for students who struggle to access online learning.

"Many students may be trying to share a family laptop with siblings and home working parents, or do not have one at all.

"They may have a mobile phone, but it's neither practical nor possible to draw diagrams, complete science equations, show your workings or write 500-word essays on a phone."

During the first lockdown last year, huge paperwork packs were being regularly sent out to more than 110 families.

Mr Hawthorne said: "Whilst the situation may have improved for a few students, this still left 83 families that couldn't access live lessons and whose children were in real danger of falling behind and missing out on the education that was available to others."

With many schools in a similar situation and funding opportunities stretched, Hungerford Town Council and the community stepped up to plug the widening digital divide.

The school and its parent staff association funded digital visualisers and webcams for teachers to use in lessons.

The Department for Education enabled access to some laptops for students, and the Excalibur Academy Trust, to which John O'Gaunt School belongs, committed significant capital investment to the effort.

Hungerford Town Council and Greenham Trust Good Exchange provided the substantial remainder needed.

West Berkshire Council also supported the fundraising effort, but when the project target was reached with the donation from Hungerford Town Council, that money was diverted to a local primary school.

Mr Hawthorne said: "Blended learning approaches are here to stay and the loan of laptops to students in the advent of lockdowns, or in the event of illness, having to isolate or quarantine, really does mean they stand a far better chance of making good progress at school.

"This provision directly affects their future prospects and quality of life.

"The enthusiasm and willingness to help from Excalibur Trust and especially Hungerford Town Council – and crucially, to do so this quickly, so that every one of the original 83 families can be issued with a laptop – is a superb story of community.

"It means a very great deal to us all at John O'Gaunt School.

"I'd also like to pay tribute to all the families who are working so hard to support their children's education at home, online or otherwise, in often far from ideal circumstances.

"We've had some truly heartening feedback and encouragement from parents and we'd very much like to extend our thanks and appreciation to them, too."

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