Gordon Brown finally announced the Home Access programme last week. Organised by Becta this scheme will provide 270,000 households with a voucher that is redeemable for a computer along with 1 year’s Internet access, a suite of software and also support.
Families will be eligible if they have a child in Years 3-7, they have not been beneficiaries of a similar scheme in the past and they are entitled to Free School Meals or a range of other Income based benefits.
The scheme is independent of schools, although they can organise to bulk apply for the packages (I have heard this results in delays). Parents need to call the Home Access Grant Helpline on 0333 200 1004 for an application form, they will be told over the phone if they are eligible.
All of the packages on offer include ‘Assistive Technologies’. I saw a presentation on these at BETT last week and they do look impressive. The base package consists of a piece of Mind Mapping software, Mind View3; Text Help Read & Write software that includes spell checking, grammar suggestion and text to speak capabilities and finally issist iZoom screen magnification software.
The second package includes specific hardware solutions such as trackballs, high contrast keyboard stickers, larger keyboards, trackpads etc.. The third package which is not ready to go yet, is for those with more specific physical needs and will include home visits and assessments if necessary.
Although not run through our school I am keen to ensure that every child that is eligible for this benefits from it, so we will be sending a letter home to all of our Year 7-9 pupils encouraging them to apply. I will then run some form-filling drop-in evenings at school. Over half of our pupils have English as a second language so I’m sure some of the parents will appreciate the help in completing the forms. I’ll also be liaising closely with my SEN department to ensure that those with additional needs benefit from the assistive technology packages.
I spoke with a representative from Becta about this package. Many of our pupils benefited for the laptops for pupils scheme a year ago, so won’t be eligible for the new schme, but would certainly benefit from the software package. He confirmed that the package will be available in all of the approved retailers and should be under £50 which represents a considerable saving. They are also looking into making it available to schools for their own systems.
Further details and promotional materials for schools are available from the Home Access website if you register as a school, however feel free to borrow my letter.