Computer giveaway sparks interest

More than 130,000 families have applied for free laptops and broadband internet access for their children – just three weeks after the government launched its giveaway scheme.

To date 131,938 application packs have been requested and 14,671 filled in and returned, with 5,309 applications approved so far.

Each low-income family, whose application is given the green light, gets a Barclaycard, which can be used for a one-off transaction worth £528 specifically to buy the equipment at an approved supplier.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Schools Secretary Ed Balls launched the Home Access programme last month, and pledged that 270,000 laptops would be distributed by the March 2011 deadline on a first-come-first served basis. The overall scheme will cost £300 million.

Regarding the take up, Ed Balls said: “There’s been a fantastic response by families to the ground-breaking offer we’ve made. We’ve tapped into a real need to ensure every child, whatever their background, has the educational, economic and social benefits of being online at home.

“Computers are no longer a luxury for the few, but an essential part of education as books, pens and paper. I’m really pleased so many people are applying. Not only will this help children learn – but it can also help parents keep in touch with their child’s school work as well.”

London has seen the highest number of approved applications so far – 1,289 – followed by the North West (789), East of England (655) and West Midlands (591).

The scheme is part of 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 and work at school.

Studies show that 81% of parents think having internet access at home has helped this – and increased parental engagement is proven to boost attainment at school.