Poor broadband connections in remote areas hinder children’s learning because they cannot do their homework properly, a report has found.
Brian Wilson, director at Rural England said that pupils who grow up in rural communities are at a disadvantage compared to their urban dwelling peers, as they less able to access online learning resources and carry out research based projects.
A report by the campaign group, titled State of Rural Services 2016, said that rural communities are suffering due to poor transport links to vital public services.
Mr Wilson, who wrote the report, said: “A lack of a fast broadband connection is an issue in a lot of rural places. It is expanding but it is still the case that about a quarter of homes will be unable to get a broadband connection.
“Schools are increasingly using online learning materials, children are expected to do a lot of homework online. A slow connection at home makes it harder to do homework, particularly research based tasks, projects which involve trying to download attachments or large document."
The Telegraph is running a Better Broadband campaign to highlight the damaging impact poor internet coverage is having on families and businesses in rural communities.
The Government has proposed that every Briton should have the legal right to request access to internet speeds of 10mbps by 2020.
Matt Warman, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary group on broadband, said the Government must introduce specific provisions to improve broadband in schools, as rural children are missing out on "huge chunks of the curriculum".
Mr Warman, who is MP for Boston and Skegness and sits on the science and technology select committee, told The Daily Telegraph: “Children aren’t able to do huge chunks of the curriculum if they don’t have a decent connection.
“Some councils have been forward thinking about this, but others have not and it is very clear that some schools are better connected than others and that’s not fair in an education system that is meant to provide equal opportunities for all.
“It is hard for me to justify to one parent whose children have almost zero broadband at school while others have something much better.”
He added that the Government’s proposals for a national standard of internet speed “need to also take into account that schools should be given priority”.
Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, revealed last month that a quarter of all properties in rural areas – close to a million in total - still do not have decent broadband.
Steve Unger, Ofcom’s group director, said it was “unacceptable” that so many people were struggling to get broadband and urged ministers to improve coverage in the countryside.
Rachael Maskell MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that Rural England’s findings represent “yet more evidence that rural communities have been left behind by this Tory Government”.
She added: “It’s clear that the lack of infrastructure in rural areas, including broadband and mobile access, is blocking access to vital services across the board.”
"But we are determined to go further and we've just announced £400 million that will be used to take superfast broadband even further and reach hundreds of thousands more rural homes. And we are legislating for a Universal Service Obligation, which will give every home and business in the UK the right to fast broadband."
The report, published on Tuesday, found that more than three fifths of students cannot reach schools in rural areas in reasonable travel time.
They used Department for Transport data, which includes details of those living within ‘reasonable’ distances of schools and hospitals.
The DfT does not publish its own definitions of ‘reasonable travel times’ but many local authorities say 75 minutes is a reasonable distance to travel to a secondary school.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The legal responsibility for transport to schools and further education colleges rests with councils, who are best placed to understand the needs of their population and the local transport infrastructure.
“We know that buses play a key role in helping children to get to school, especially in rural areas. We provide around £250 million to support services in England every year, which councils can use for specific bus routes.”