Tower Hamlets council said many disadvantaged children are unable to access equipment through Government schemes because their parent or carer may have a phone or computer. It added that many of the same children are unable to attend classes in person because of pressures on schools.
The same problem is being experienced in other parts of London, causing concern that access to school during lockdown has not been adequately addressed by the Government.
The Department for Education said it has distributed 700,000 devices to schools in England to help disadvantaged children during the pandemic.
But it uses “access” to a device to determine whether a student needs to be provided free equipment. Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs warned this meant children living in a house with a device may not qualify, even if it is being used by someone else.
The council, which has the highest rate of child poverty in the UK, has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson asking him to rethink the policy.
“Teachers, parents and carers have raised their concerns about children not being able to access the online curriculum due to having to rely on shared devices. It is impossible to access timetabled lessons without a dedicated and suitable personal device,” Mr Biggs wrote.
The Government has said children who do not have access to equipment can be classed as vulnerable and attend school. However, Tower Hamlets warned this would push student numbers “well beyond” what teachers could cope with.
The council said that 10,000 more devices were required to ensure every child has access to online learning.
Other local authorities have also struggled with access to devices. Camden council took to crowdfunding after more than 3,000 of its pupils went without access to a computer in the first lockdown. Lambeth TechAid was set up last year and accepts donations of devices to distribute to children in the borough.
A Department for Education spokesman said laptops for disadvantaged children are provided to schools, trusts and local authorities as they are best placed to determine which children do not have access to a device.