Monday 11 January 2010

Free laptops for low income families

Over a quarter of a million lower income families will be eligible for grants to buy computers and broadband connections as the Home Access programme rolls out.

Following successful pilots in Suffolk and Oldham Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has announced £300m funding to roll out the scheme under a major drive to close the digital and educational divide between rich and poor and help keep parents in touch with their child's progress.

Research has shown that pupils could improve by two grades at GCSE if they have a computer at home, and ministers hope the scheme will narrow the educational divide between children receiving free school meals and their peers.

Said Mr Brown, "We want every family to become a broadband family. We want every home where there are children [to be] linked to the school. For those finding it difficult to afford this, I want to announce the nationwide roll-out of our Home Access programme to get laptops and broadband at home for 270,000 families in the UK. It means that families can come together, learn together and reap the rewards together."

The majority of parents who took part in the pilot schemes believed that Home Access had improved their involvement in their children's learning, as well as boosted their own skills and confidence in using technology.

Said Mr Balls, "This ground breaking new offer to the most in need families goes much further than just helping children get ahead at school. More than eight out of 10 parents involved in the pilot said getting online at home improved their confidence in using technology, and many reported using the new laptop to access public services and also to look for work.

"This is all about making sure no child is left behind because of their background, getting parents more involved in their child's learning, and helping them get the skills they need to get back into employment or training."

Parents can apply for the grant if they have children in years 3 - 9 and are registered for Free School Meals or if they receive one of the qualifying benefits, as well as meeting a number of other qualifying criteria. Carers and foster parents for Looked After Children in years 1 to 13 are also likely to be eligible for Home Access.

The Government is currently legislating to make reporting to parents online by 2012 a legal guarantee in the Children, Schools and Families Bill. Home Access computers are also loaded with a suite of software to support literacy and numeracy for all the family.

A recent study from the Institute of Fiscal studies also showed that having a computer at home could lead to a two grade improvement in one subject at GCSE.

Mr Brown and Mr Balls jointly announced roll-out of the scheme today as government ministers from around the world gathered at the opening of the Learning and Technology World Forum in London.