Parents are coming under pressure to buy expensive gadgets to aid their children’s education, as schools struggle to fund the Scottish Government’s push for all-digital classrooms.

As the new school year begins, the average school bag now contains top-of-the-range devices worth £270, more than twice the value seen last year. The research from comparison site Uswitch also found a quarter of all families have spent at least £400 on technology, while half of all parents have been compelled to buy new gadgets specifically for this school term, typically worth £134.

It follows separate research, which found that one in four parents of children at primary school admit to buying a computer to help with homework, rising to half of all households when children reach secondary school. According to retailer Laptopsdirect, more than 60 per cent of families say technology costs have been a “financial burden” while half of those surveyed said they had spent more than they could afford.

The Scottish Government has been a strong advocate of digital learning, establishing a national intranet services for schools – Glow – and helping at least 10 local authorities to lend free tablets to pupils.

But in the future, it may be parents – not schools – who will have to foot the bill for the digital revolution in schools. Councils such as Argyle & Bute, Highland and South Lanarkshire have piloted a “bring your own device” scheme, which sees pupils use their own tablets in the classroom.

Rob Hilborn, head of strategy at comparison site Broadband Genie, confirmed that many schools now require kids to have tablets, or at least access to a computer outside school time, and that this can put “a great deal of pressure” on parents.

Mr Hiborn said: “The need to buy equipment can stretch tight budgets and pupils whose parents cannot afford the latest hardware could face abuse from their peers. Also, parents are often expected to take responsibility for insuring, maintaining and repairing the mandatory equipment, adding further complications and expense.”

Trade unions have also been alarmed about the digitalisation of classrooms. Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Education Institute of Scotland, said the ‘bring your own scheme’ could serve to “reinforce disadvantages” facing poorer children if lessons are “dependent on access to unaffordable digital devices”.

An iPad Air 2 from the Apple Store is at least £399, while other models range from £70 to £350. It can also be expensive to insure your tablet and other devices so that your home contents policy covers their loss or theft outside the house. A significant minority – 13 per cent – of pupils have had their devices stolen, according to the Uswitch survey.

Paul Finnis, chief executive of the e-Learning Foundation, said Scotland supported technology in classrooms far more than England but that there is “just not enough money in the system”. He also admitted there were “very few options” for parents who don’t want to pay upfront besides contributing to a donation scheme, which requires a £10 per month over two to three years.

Mr Finnis said: “Our philosophy is that your ability to pay for devices should not affect your ability to be involved with our scheme. Some parents pay, but others opt out because they either can’t afford it or don’t want to be involved. There has to be sufficient number of parents stepping up to the mark if the scheme is going to work.”

The advantage of the scheme is that, while families don’t own the devices bought by the school, they can buy it in future at a lower market value – typically £40 to £50 – or even receive the tablet for free. He added: “The school may also be able to negotiate a cheaper deal initially if they buy in bulk.”

When it comes to buying laptops, parents could make big savings by going refurbished. Mark Kelly from LaptopsDirect said many second-hand models returned by previous owners have never been used or even opened.

Finally, households can reduce the costs of broadband by using a Mifi unit, said Mr Finnis. “We can provide one for £10 a month, which provides enough access to do homework and helps struggling families for a year. After that, families do often find savings elsewhere to continue funding it.” The E-learning Foundation also wants to set up a referral service to help families to find the cheapest possible broadband deals available.

You can also save money by taking out a longer term broadband contract rather than paying as you go, but this requires you to sign up for at least 12 months. The cheapest ad-hoc deal available at the moment, according to, is Direct Save Telecom, which offers a 28 -ay rolling basic package for £11.95. This includes free weekend UK calls, wireless router, set-up and line rental. By comparison, Talktalk is currently offering free broadband for 18 months, costing £5 a month thereafter, with a £50 Love2shop voucher thrown in. Line rental is an extra £15.03 a month.