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UK schools chief begs for Home Access scheme cash

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The UK government has pleaded with the IT industry to help breathe some life into its Home Access programme.

It wants key players in the tech world to cough up cash towards ensuring all school children in England aged five to 19 have a computer and internet access in their homes.

Schools minister Jim Knight, who was speaking at the opening of this year's Bett event at Olympia in London, said today that Microsoft has created something he described as a “re-investment fund”. The software maker will “commit to fund a foundation in support of the Home Access programme,” he said.

However, Knight didn’t reveal how much cash Microsoft was pumping into the initiative, which has been periodically wheeled out by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) for the past 12 months, perhaps in part to help resuscitate Gordon Brown's premiership.

According to Knight, who was deep in rhetoric-mode today, the UK.gov is optimistic that the DCSF is “on track to start the national roll out this autumn”.

In the meantime a pilot scheme is about to get underway in Oldham and Suffolk, where some 28,000 schoolkids will be targeted.

Education tech body Becta announced yesterday that suppliers had been approved for the Home Access scheme. RM, Stone Computers and Positive IT solutions were among the firms to have secured deals with the government, it said.

The pilot phase kicks off next month, but it remains unclear how the DCSF will fund its 'computer and broadband for every child' pork barrel.

No wonder then that Knight had nice things to say about Microsoft:

“I am delighted to hear from Becta that Microsoft have now risen to this challenge… I’m grateful to Microsoft – who [sic] we recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding – for letting me use some of their videos to make my point.”

In the past year Becta has been vocally critical of Microsoft over issues of interoperability with Office 2007 and Windows Vista. The education tech agency has been criticised in the past for failing to adequately address a wider range of IT suppliers and vendors in the education market.

However, this latest agreement with Microsoft to inject some money into the Home Access programme could ruffle some feathers, particularly among the open source community.

The Microsoft-funded foundation will develop and implement a programme of training and support for teachers, parents, as well as to help create "awareness" for the Home Office programme, said Knight. ®

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