A secondary school has handed each of its 1,200 pupils a £400-plus touch-screen computer of their own.
Honywood Community Science School in Coggeshall has given Apple iPad 2s to all its pupils – asking parents only to pay £50 towards insurance costs.
The school has even posted iPad tutorials on the YouTube website to teach students how to set up Apple accounts and download applications on their new devices.
Headteacher Simon Mason refused to expand on the new policy, citing fears it might make pupils vulnerable to attacks from people interested in stealing the computers.
But a national public spending pressure group has branded the move “a gimmick” and demanded more information about it, Specifically, the Taxpayers’ Alliance wants to know where the money came from to buy the iPads, which retail for between £400 and nearly £700.
Emma Boon, the alliance’s campaign director, said: “iPads are a premium product at a premium price.
“There will be a huge cost of buying, repairing and replacing the devices which will, inevitably, be damaged or go astray.
“Buying new technology for schools has to be about educational results, not gimmicks.
“New technology could be introduced at a much smaller cost without giving every pupil their own personal device.
“Taxpayers will suspect money intended for pupils’ education is being spent on devices to play games on.”
Honywood was recently granted academy status, and given more control over its budget and how it chooses to spend it.
However, local Tory MP Priti Patel, said she backed the school’s investment, arguing schools in other countries were already using similar gadgets.
She added: “Our international competitors across the world are emb-racing the latest technologies in schools, other public services including hospitals and in the private sector.
“New and modern technologies can provide a valuable asset to help children learn and pupils in Britain and in Essex should not be left behind.
“Headteachers and governing bodies should be able to invest in IT for pupils to use where it brings clear benefits.
“All schools, whether they are academies or not, are able to make these investments and will do so in discussion with parents.
“While it may be tempting to criticise schools for choosing to spend money in this way to grab a headline, the evidence I have seen shows schools using these technologies have fully weighed up the costs and decided to make these investments to benefit the education of local pupils.”
Ms Patel also express-ed concern over media coverage of such schemes.
She said: “I also believe newspapers need to act responsibly when reporting these cases, so the safety of local pupils is not put at risk.”
Peter Inson, a retired London headteacher, who lives in East Mersea, disagreed with the MP. He warned big money give-aways would send the wrong message to pupils.
He explained: “It’s the thin end of a wedge. It is the wrong sort of motivation.
“Students should want education for their own sake, not because of material giveaways.
“What message does this send? To go to the school with the best technology?
“Once one school sets a precedent, the others are sure to follow.”