7 ways struggling parents can get help with home schooling including free internet and laptops

FROM internet and laptops to free school meals, here are seven ways struggling parents can get help with home schooling.

The majority of children across the UK are learning from home due to schools being shut until at least March 8.

Schools only remain open for vulnerable kids and the children of key workers, with all other lessons switching online.

But if you’re struggling with home schooling, there is plenty of support available.

We round up all the help you could be eligible for:

1. Free WiFi

BT is handing out free WiFi vouchers to vulnerable households, even if you're not a customer already.

The free vouchers give access to five million BT WiFi hotspots across the UK until the end of the academic year in July 2021.

Top tips on how to stay connected

BELOW are some tips from Ofcom on how to stay connected during the coronavirus crisis.

  1. Use your landline or wifi calls:More people are making calls on their mobile network during the day, so you may find you get a more reliable connection using your landline or by turning on "wifi calling" in your settings.
  2. Move your router clear of other devices: Keep your router as far away as possible from other devices, such as cordless phones, baby monitors, TVs and monitors, as they can all affect your wifi if they’re too close to your router. Also, place your router on a table or shelf rather than on the floor, and keep it switched on.
  3. Lower the demands on your connection: The more devices attached to your wifi, the lower the speed you get. Devices like tablets and smartphones often work in the background, so try switching wifi reception off on these when you’re not using them.
  4. Try wired rather than wireless:For the best broadband speeds, use an Ethernet cable to connect your computer directly to your router rather than using wifi.
  5. Plug your router directly into your main phone socket:Where possible, try not to use a telephone extension lead, as these can cause interference which could lower your speed.
  6. Test the speed on your broadband line: You can run a speed test using Ofcom’s official mobile and broadband checker. If possible, carry out tests over a few days and at different times of day.
  7. Get advice from your broadband provider: If your connection isn’t working as well as it should, you can find advice on your broadband provider’s website. If you need to contact them for help, keep in mind that because of coronavirus some companies have fewer people to help with your queries.

Just keep in mind that the network doesn't reach every address – BT says the hotspots reach roughly 20% of households.

You can check if your home is covered by using the BT online checker.

But you should note that you can't claim for the vouchers yourself – instead, you'll need to speak to your child's school.

If they agree that you qualify for the support, your school will then need to put in a request through the BT website.

Buying on demand access vouchers to BT's WiFi usually costs £39 a month, or if you sign up for three months, you only have to pay £30 a month.

2. Free mobile data

The majority of well-know mobile providers are offering free data for struggling families.

For example, EE, Three and Vodafone are giving out unlimited extra data – this is applied on top of your usual monthly plan.

O2 will boost your data package by 40GB per month, while Virgin Mobile is offering an extra 20GB per month.

Or if you're on Sky Mobile, customers can get a one-off 100GB data boost.

The above help is available for existing customers of each network and is part of the Department for Education's (DFE) Get Help with Tech programme.

But check the terms and conditions carefully, as the support offered sometimes depends on if you're a contract or pay-as-you-go customer.

To get this help, you'll need to speak to your school first to see if you're eligible.

Your school should then make any necessary arrangements through the DfE website.

You may be eligible if you don't have a fixed broadband connection and you can't afford extra data.

Your child must also be called as disadvantaged and must be:

  • In any year group and have been advised to shield
  • In any year group attending a hospital school

What mobile providers are offering extra data for struggling families?

MANY well-known mobile network providers are offering free data for families who are struggling with home schooling.

Here's what help is available:

  • EE: Free unlimited data (pay monthly and pay-as-you go customers)
  • O2: Free 40GB data boost per month (pay monthly and pay-as-you go customers)
  • Sky Mobile: One-off 100GB data boost (pay monthly customers only)
  • SMARTY: Free unlimited data (pay monthly and pay-as-you go customers)
  • Tesco Mobile: Free 20GB data boost per month (pay monthly customers only)
  • Three: Free unlimited data (pay monthly and pay-as-you go customers)
  • Virgin Mobile: Free 20GB data boost per month (pay monthly customers only)
  • Vodafone: Free unlimited data (pay monthly and pay-as-you go customers on a "Big Value" bundle worth £10 or more)

3. Free 4G routers

Pupils and students who don't have fixed broadband or access to the internet at home may also be able to claim a free 4G router.

You can ask for one even if you're not eligible for free mobile data.

Again, you'll need to speak to your child's school first as they'll need to put the request in through the DfE website.

Routers are available to disadvantaged families who don't have a broadband connection at home and whose children are:

  • In years 3 to 11
  • In 16 to 19 further education
  • In any year group who have been advised to shield
  • In any year group attending a hospital school

4. Free laptops and tablets

You might be able to claim one of 1.3million free laptops and tablets being given out by the government for home schooling.

The government initially said it would hand out 200,000 free devices through the scheme.

But this number has gradually increased due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic.

So far, the government has delivered 876,013 devices to struggling families.

According to Gov.uk guidelines, your child must be classed as disadvantaged and fall into one of these categories:

  • In school years three to 11 (ages seven to 15) who do not have access to a device
  • In any year group who have been advised to shield 
  • In any year group attending a hospital school

If you're unsure if you qualify, and your child can't learn from home due to lack of device, speak to their school as soon as possible.

Examples of children who could qualify include:

  • Children with no digital devices in their household
  • Children whose only available device is a smartphone
  • Children with a single device in their household that’s being shared with more than one other family member

Like the above support, it is down to your school to put in the request for a free laptop on the DfE website.

The devices will technically be "on loan" to families, which means they'll likely need to be returned to your child's school or your council.

Again, you should speak to your school to find out if they'll expect the devices back.

5. Free learning resources

Virgin Media is giving mobile customers free access to learning resources at the Oak National Academy.

Oak National Academy provides online lessons and resources for free across all key stages.

The telecoms giant said customers will still be able to access their content even if they have no data.

Virgin is also offering some of its TV channels for free – specifically those broadcasting factual shows.

Channels include Animal Planet, Crime+Investigation, Discovery Science, Eurospot and Sky History.

6. Free school meals

If your child usually get free school meals during term, then they'll qualify for free food parcels or food vouchers while learning from home.

Similar to previous lockdowns, it is up to the schools to decide which form of support is offered.

If you haven't heard anything from your school, get in touch as soon as possible to discuss what help is available.

The weekly vouchers are worth £15, which is above the £11.50 currently paid to schools per pupil for the cost of providing free meals.

Schools can also claim up to £3.50 per eligible pupil a week, on top of their usual funding, to provide food parcels.

The government confirmed the return of school meal vouchers following backlash over "unacceptable" food parcels sent to parents.

7. Ask to be furloughed

Parents who are struggling to juggle work and home schooling can ask to be furloughed by their employer.

On the Gov.uk website, it says you can be furloughed if you've got caring responsibilities.

You can be furloughed if your caring responsibilities means you are:

  • unable to work (including from home)
  • working reduced hours

Examples of caring responsibilities include caring for children or a vulnerable person in your household.

Crucially, it is up your employer to decide to furlough you. You should speak to your boss as soon as possible if you want to be furloughed.

The furlough scheme runs until the end of April, giving workers 80% of their current salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500.

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