The Digital Exclusion fund is part of Digital 2030, a strategic framework for digital learning in the post-16 sector covering further education, work-based and adult learning in Wales.
The emergence of Covid-19 mandated remote learning for apprentices in 2020. Many were left in the lurch with no access to appropriate equipment, devices, or adequate connectivity to complete their studies, other than their smartphones.
Although some apprentices are back at work in 2021, many learners will follow blended learning programmes, and they need to be ready to work at home if the nation goes back into lockdown.
In 2021, the Welsh Government released a £2.6 million capital grant fund to support those who were digitally excluded. The fund was made available to apprenticeship training providers, like TSW, who could invest in technology to help apprentices with digital barriers.
TSW Training Apprenticeships was able to supply 60 brand new laptops and tablets to its apprentices thanks to the Welsh Government's Digital Exclusion Fund. Here are just some of their stories.
Rebecca has no access to digital equipment outside of work and only limited access to a laptop in her setting. It can't be taken home. Her TA, Abigail John, put Rebecca's name forward for the Welsh Government's Digital Exclusion Fund. She sent us this photo after the laptop arrived in June 2021.
Annie recently signed up for CCPLD qualification. She explained to her Training Advisor (TA), Catrina Williams, that not all resources she needed were installed on her laptop, which she shares with her mother. Catrina suggested an iPad would have the up-to-date software and give her some independence. She would have the chance to research topics and complete activities online alongside the shared laptop, which she had already used to complete her written assignments.
Annie is also keen to develop her Welsh skills and with an iPad she would be able to have access to Welsh language apps such as Duolingo and programme Prentisiaeth.
When we asked Annie whether she had the right IT equipment, she was reluctant to say she shared a laptop with her mother as she thought others would need the equipment more than her.
Here she is with her brand new iPad, provided by the Welsh Government's Digital Exclusion Fund. We're so proud of all you're doing Annie and we're blown away by your selflessness - keep going.
Nathan has just started a new job at a primary school, but his laptop had broken and he couldn't replace it. The school had no spares to support him, so he couldn't work on his CCPLD qualifications at home. His Training Advisor (TA), Angela Brown, put his name forward for the Digital Exclusion Fund and he was awarded a brand new laptop in May 2021.
Vicky was using her son's laptop to work on her HSC apprenticeship. He needs it for school work, so it was a struggle to balance both their time on the equipment. Vicky is a single parent and cannot afford to buy another laptop, so her TA, Hayley Lewis, put her forward for the Digital Exclusion Fund. Here she is at work with her new laptop. Now both she and her son can get all their work done!
Leanne was using her phone for research towards her CCPLD apprenticeships. Although she could borrow a work laptop once a month, it was sufficient to complete the extensive research required for CCPLD. Her TA, Abigail John, recommended Leanne for the Digital Exclusion Fund and she was awarded a new laptop in May 2021.
The former minster of education, Kirsty Williams AM, and the Minister for Economy and Transport National, said:
"Our National Mission for education in Wales is to raise standards and ensure that learners of all ages, abilities and backgrounds are equipped with the skills they need to succeed in their work and throughout their lives."
Megan has just started her Level 2 foundation CCPLD apprenticeship. She intends to progress onto the Level 3 qualifications. In her first review with her TA, Michelle David, Megan revealed that although she was using her smartphone to work, she was finding it very difficult. She was saving towards a new laptop. We put her forward for a brand new Digital Exclusion Fund laptop, which she received in May 2021.
Danielle was struggling to complete the diagnostics element of her CCPLD apprenticeship because she didn't have a laptop. She wants to progress onto her Level 3 apprenticeship - she needed to have the right equipment in place to support her ambitions. Danielle received her Digital Exclusion Fund laptop in May 2021 after her TA, Michelle David, put her forward.
Abbie was using her phone to complete her CCPLD research. Although she could borrow a tablet from her employer, she couldn't use it on demand when she needed it. It was in use by other members of staff. In May 2021, her TA Abigal John, organised for Abbie to have a laptop to call her own via the Digital Exclusion Fund.
64% of Further Education students agreed that they were more independent in their learning when digital was used.
A further 57% agreed that digital approaches helped them to fit learning into their life.
Nicola is studying for SSTLS and stays in school after hours to complete the written evidence element of the qualification. Her school has laptops, but they can only be used by pupils during school hours. Nicola must complete all three key skills for her qualification. She needed a laptop to prepare, so in May 2021 her TA, Abigail John, organised for Nicola to have a laptop of her own, via the Digital Exclusion Fund.
Samuel is another of Abigail John's SSTLS learners. He stays in school after hours to work towards his qualifications and although there are laptops at school, they can only be used by pupils during school hours. Abigail secured him a laptop via the Digital Exclusion Fund, giving him the flexibility to work when and where he needs to.
Lily also works with Abigail John towards her SSTLS apprenticeship. She has no digital equipment to complete any work outside of school, but she had access to the school's Chrome Book before or after school finishes. Abigail helped Lily to secure a laptop of her own, so she could complete the written evidence required by the qualifications more flexibly.
Kathryn is working towards her SSTLS qualification, under the guidance of TA Abigail John. She has no access to digital equipment outside of her workplace. Kathryn can occasionally access a Chrome Book when her pupils aren't using them, limiting how much work she could do towards her apprenticeship. Abigail organised an iPad for Kathryn via the Digital Exclusion Fund.
Kathryn is studying towards her foundation CCPLD, but struggled to complete her written evidence because she doesn't have sole access to a laptop - she shared one or used her phone. It hindered her progress and she found it extremely frustrating when she couldn't complete tasks on time, just because she didn't have the equipment to hand. Kathryn doesn't have the means to buy a new laptop herself, so her TA Angela Brown helped her to access a laptop via the Digital Exclusion Fund in May 2021.
Elen Marie Davies
Marie is first-language Welsh and has recently started her CCPLD qualification, but she doesn't have a laptop. To complete her written evidence in Welsh, Marie needs Cysill and Cysgair (Welsh spell checker + dictionary), and access to the internet to research topics. A laptop would give her the time and freedom to complete her assignments to the best of her ability, with the IT equipment that she needs. In May 2021, her TA Angela Brown, organised for Marie to be awarded a laptop through the Digital Exclusion Fund.
Louise Fulcher and Marie Phillips
Louise has started her CCPLD qualification but does not have a laptop to complete the research-based evidence work, or use video conferencing to attend discussions, meetings and reviews. She uses her smartphone instead.
Louise has the option to borrow a laptop to complete some of the evidence, but she needs the flexibility to work on her assignments when she needs to.
To make sure Louise was able to progress, her TA, Catrina Williams, put her name forward for the Digital Exclusion Fund, which awarded her a laptop in May 2021.
Marie has started her CCPLD Level 3 qualification and has been completing her evidence by hand due to not having a suitable laptop to complete her assignments.
Having a laptop would transform Marie's learning journey. She would have the freedom to research and complete evidence and also join video conferencing meetings.
Marie does this on her phone at the moment, but due to where she lives, her phone network signal is non-existent, putting her in an impossible situation.
However, her internet speed is much faster and the WIFI signal is strong, so if Marie had a laptop, she would be able to do the internet research required by the apprenticeship, and join video conferencing meetings with other members of staff who are also undertaking the CCPLD qualification.
This will also allow Marie to develop her Welsh skills as she will be able to access Prentis-iaith and attend training online with Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin which will support the knowledge element of her qualification.
Rhian is a first-language Welsh CCPLD apprentice, working towards her Level 5 qualifications. She is experienced, but is held back by a lack of equipment - she does not have a laptop to research her work, or to video conference with her TA, Catrina Williams. The right technology would give Rhian access to Cysill and Cysgair (Welsh spell checker + dictionary), so she could submit assessments in Welsh.
She gained a laptop via the Digital Exclusion Fund in May 2021, so now she can work towards her Higher Apprenticeship on her own terms.
Uzma works long shifts in a nursing home. She put her qualification on hold due to the impact Covid-19 has had on her role.
She had access to her son's laptop but it was ageing and in poor condition, which disrupted her learning. Uzma is hand-writing her work, so she sorely needed access to equipment that would help her complete her qualification.
Her TA, Lindsay Sandall, organised for Uzma to have access to a laptop via the Digital Exclusion Fund in May.
Ffion Jade Beynon
Ffion is making slow progress towards her CCPLD qualification because the equipment she has to support her learning isn't fit for its purpose. She has lost her work four times since beginning her studies. Her TA, Michelle David, acted quickly to secure Ffion a new laptop via the Digital Exclusion Fund, so she could work without fear of losing it all.
Steven Barnes is studying for his HSC apprenticeship, but has been working with a paper based portfolio for the majority of his qualification. He has no access to IT equipment at home or work. If he had a laptop, transferred to Smart Assessor and developed his Digital Literacy skills, it would be a fantastic achievement for Steven - personally and in his professional role.
In May, his TA, Sian Smith, helped Steven to access a new laptop via the Digital Exclusion Fund, lifting his work off the page and onto the screen.
Chloe's TA, Abigail John, realised that was working towards her SSTLS qualification without access to digital equipment. Chloe was only able to use a laptop when they were not in use by pupils, outside of school hours. When she proposed that Chloe would be a good beneficiary for the Digital Exclusion Fund, she suggested than an iPad would fit Chloe's learner style. Here Chloe is with her new iPad in June 2021.
Ffion is working towards her CCPLD Level 3 apprenticeship. Like many of our other apprentices, she's completing her evidence on a borrowed laptop, and getting her own would transform Ffion's learning journey. She would have the freedom to research and complete evidence and join video conferencing meetings - learning on her terms.
To get the work done, Ffion works on her phone or in work, due to the lack of mobile signal, making notes and typing the evidence when she gets a chance.
In June 2021, TSW arranged for Ffion to receive a laptop via the digital exclusion fund. The WIFI signal in the area is much stronger, so Ffion can focus completely on achieving her CCPLD.
What's more, it will help Ffion to complete her evidence in Welsh making use of the Welsh spell checker and a Welsh dictionary online. Ffion can now attend training online, that she completes in school outside of work hours, supporting the knowledge element of her qualification.
Adam was using an old laptop to study for his HSC apparenticeship, which takes hours to load. His TA, Hayley Lewis, often sat with Adam while the laptop creaked to life during his reviews. It slowed him down and he wasn't in a financial position to buy a new laptop. He felt it would make a huge difference to the time spent on his course work and that he would be more productive meeting his targets towards his apprenticeship. Here's Adam with his brand new laptop, ready to jump into work.
Alessandra had no access to IT equipment when she was away from school, so it was only possible for her to work towards her SSTLS apprenticeship on school equipment, before and after school hours. Her TA, abigail John, organised for Alessandra to have an iPad via the Digital Exclusion Fund.
Jack didn't have access to a laptop or tablet whatsoever, so to achieve his SSTLS apprenticeship (and the essential skills Wales qualifications) he really needed one. Here he is with his digital exclusion laptop, organised by his laptop Abigail John, so he's study-ready.
 Findings from Jisc’s Digital Experience Insights survey 2018