Gordon Brown's free PC giveaway for school kids is go

270,000 low-income families getting internet access at home courtesy of the government...
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

270,000 low-income families getting internet access at home courtesy of the government...

The rollout of a £300m government scheme to provide free computers, software and broadband for 270,000 low-income families in England kicked off yesterday.

The launch follows pilots of the scheme in Oldham and Suffolk last year which awarded more than 12,000 grants to eligible families.

The Home Access programme was first announced back in 2008. As well as a free PC and broadband access, the computers will come pre-loaded with a suite of literacy and numeracy software which the government says is intended for both children and parents.

From this week, families with children in school years three to nine - approximately aged seven to 14 - who are entitled to free schools meals and meet additional eligibility criteria will be able to apply for a grant to buy a computer and broadband connection from an approved supplier. Eligibility criteria includes parents receiving income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit - but not Working Tax Credit - and an income of less than £16,040.

According to the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), last year's Home Access pilot showed children who received computers spent an extra hour per week learning online than classmates who already had the internet at home.

The Home Access scheme

The Home Access scheme to provide internet access to low-income families has gone live
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

A recent Institute of Fiscal Studies report cited by the government also states that having a computer at home could lead to a two-grade improvement in one subject at GCSE.

The majority of parents in each trial location also said they felt the scheme would help with their own skills development, with parents reporting using the computers to access public services online and to look for work.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a statement: "I believe everyone should benefit from new advances in technology. It's right that we break down any barriers to social mobility in order to give more children and families the opportunity to complete coursework, conduct research and apply for jobs online."

Asked whether the scheme includes any checks and balances to prevent the free hardware being sold on by recipients, a spokesman for DCSF said parents are required to sign a legally binding form stating they will use the computer for the purpose it is intended.

Becta, the government body in charge of IT in education, will also monitor "key channels" where hardware might be resold, according to the spokesman, such as Cash Converters and eBay. However he added that figures from the pilots showed it was "really quite uncommon" for the hardware to be sold on.

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