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Home laptop scheme leaps out of the gate

A government scheme to provide free laptops for home educational use has already had thousands of requests to apply, according to Becta
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The government's scheme to provide free internet-connected PCs to disadvantaged families has drawn interest from thousands of people in its first few days, according to Becta.

The National Home Access Programme, launched on Monday by Gordon Brown, is being managed by Becta, the government agency for technology in learning. The £30m programme aims to give grants for computer and broadband purchases to 270,000 families.

The scheme is proving popular, Becta chief executive Stephen Crowne told ZDNet UK. "We've sent out 20,000 application forms already," he said on Wednesday.

Families accepted onto the scheme are given a single-use Barclaycard debit card to buy a laptop at accredited high-street suppliers such as Comet and Carphone Warehouse. The laptop must meet a list of functional technical specifications formulated by Becta, but does not need to be made by specific vendors, according to the scheme's project leader, Niel McLean.

In addition, the software on the laptop must conform to PAS 74:2008, the British Standard for internet safety for children, which sets benchmarks for filtering and access control. McLean said that it also had to be "safe out of the box", with security features such as firewalls and antivirus tools built in.

The scheme is designed to allow people to buy a one-off home access package, rather than a rolling succession of cheaper technologies, he added. It also provides funds for internet access for one year, with the families choosing which ISP to use.

By allowing families to select their own technology, Becta hopes they will value them more. "We want people to feel pride in this machine, and to still feel proud in three years time," McLean said. "We could have gone cheap and cheerful, but didn't."

The scheme also provides software for those with special educational needs, which Becta found more effective to procure as a single suite. "[Per user], we've got several hundred pounds worth of package that now costs single figure pounds per licence," said McLean.

Administration of the scheme has been handed to Capita, which is running a helpline.

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