Government wants to narrow educational divide between wealthy and underprivileged families

Free laptops for poorer children

The government is rolling out a scheme to give 270,000 low-income families free computers and free broadband access.

The £300m Home Access scheme has been piloted in two areas and is aimed at narrowing the educational gap between rich and poor children.

Families with children in school years three to nine (aged around seven to 14), who are entitled to free schools meals, will be able to apply for a grant to buy a computer and broadband connection from an approved supplier. Children in care or with special needs up to the age of 18 are also eligible for the scheme.

According to a recent study from the Institute of Fiscal studies, having a computer at home can lead to a two-grade improvement in one subject at GCSE.

Secretary of State for children, schools and families Ed Balls said: “Being online at home provides educational, economic and social benefits that cannot be ignored. We estimate that around one million children are without the internet at home, and it’s clear they are at a disadvantage to their peers. Computers are no longer a luxury for the few, but are as essential a part of education as books, pens and paper.”

The national rollout follows successful pilots in Suffolk and Oldham. As well as reporting increased incolvement in their children’s learning, many parents said they had also used their Home Access computer to access public services online and look for work.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who announced the programme in 2008, said: “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."

Stephen Crowne, chief executive of Becta, the government agency leading the scheme, added: “The benefits of technology are clear, but it is vital that children are not excluded from access to technology – whether at school or, just as importantly, in the home. The Home Access programme seeks to support this aspiration, by offering this opportunity to more families.

“Technology is opening up the world of learning to parents, helping them gain a greater understanding of how their child’s school works, as well as improving the dialogue between parents, learners and the school. We hope that more parents and children will exploit the opportunity to further engage with their children’s learning and with their children’s school.”

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