Why schools should get behind GetOnline@Home, by Microsoft’s Clare Riley

Originally posted on Agent4Change.net


One of the wonderful things about working for Microsoft is that innovative ideas bubble up every day. Even if they appear to undercut our core business, if they are good ideas they will take root. That’s what has happened with www.GetOnlineatHome.org – a website offering the lowest cost, good quality PCs you might ever find in the UK.

BBC research shows the cost of a PC can be a significant barrier to getting people online at home. With this in mind, we worked closely with our partners, such as Race Online, The Post Office and 3, to help make getting access to the internet a reality for all, regardless of financial situation or technical ability.

The GetOnline@Home offer was launched at the National Digital Inclusion conference, and since then we’ve sold thousands of refurbished desktops for under £100. If you think about it, you’re paying about the same price for this PC - which comes with a flat screen, Windows 7, a range of Microsoft software for documents, emails, messaging, pictures and Microsoft Security Essentials and Accessibility software – as you would for couple of computer games from a high street store. It’s something we are immensely proud of!

Since the summer, though, we have had a stream of great ideas about our offering from customers, partners, schools and suppliers – and so I am thrilled that we have been able to grow and extend the offer and to relaunch the website in time for Christmas.

GetOnline@Home offer to include £169 laptops and cheapest broadband

The new site, accessible at www.GetOnlineatHome.org, offers a range of exciting new developments and offerings. First of all, we’ve been able to include laptops. These all have webcams, perfect for Skype or Facebook chat, and come with new or replacement batteries and guaranteed power-up times.

The new laptops all come with the same support as the desktops – with a warranty and a telephone helpline – and the price includes VAT and delivery. Charities – or anyone receiving any of the benefits listed in the pop-up box on the home page – can get a laptop for only £169. Everyone else would pay £199 – still a great price!

Clare Riley

Clare Riley: 'thrilled' by growth

The second, and very exciting, development is our partnership with Simplify Digital, the only OFCOM-accredited price comparison website for the provision of broadband. The friendly team on the phone at Simplify Digital will help determine the best service to suit you and your family, and also offers an extra £25 discount on any service you choose to buy. This will be the lowest price broadband you could get anywhere in the UK. Other than being an amazing offer, it also has the comfort factor of stepping you through the order process and sending confirmation in the post. They will even come round and set it all up for you!

The website and the refurbished PC offer is a great team effort. Partners such as the Post Office, BT and UK Online Centres are raising awareness across the UK and we have a growing band of refurbisher companies supplying the PCs: two new suppliers joined this week and they bring with them the great experience of delivering the Home Access programme PCs last year. My job is to keep momentum in the project – and that has included the delightful role of being the site photographer! You’ll find, on the GetOnline@Home website, six photographs and stories from families who bought PCs in the first wave.

Let's take Bria, aged 11, and her mum, Christina. In the summer, Christine went to an induction meeting for parents at the secondary school where Bria would be moving to in September. The teacher asked if she had access to a computer and, if not, could she get one. In their secondary school, they explained, the school’s online learning gateway would be the main source of information. Christina was shocked: “What parent wants to see their child put on the back foot on day one of their secondary schooling?” But then she saw a small newspaper item about the “GetOnline@Home” computer offer.

At first it seemed too good to be true. She told me that she “asked around to see who else knew about it, and then I phoned up".

'It’s been brilliant. I’m really chuffed with it'

Bria and mum Christina

Bria and Christina: 'It's been brilliant'

"I wasn’t going to part with my money without speaking to a human being. It seemed too good to be true. but they reassured me and said I was eligible for the discount price.” She was doubly delighted when the computer turned up promptly and in full working order after only a week. It was set up in time for the new school term, and Bria was off to the same start as her classmates.

Christina also has an email account now, and though she says has no time for social networking, she does use the internet to keep in touch with what’s happening in the local area. She searches for money-saving opportunities and finds that the computer is a real help in cutting spending. She’s a keen user of Martin Lewis’s www.moneysavingexpert.com money saving website which has shopping vouchers. “He’s my guru,” she says.

Christina was clearly delighted with her computer and with the scheme as a whole, which I think shows in the photograph (right) I took that day in south London! “It’s been brilliant. I’m really chuffed with it – affordable, effective, and does what it says on the tin.”

Adding laptops and boosting the capability of the site is very exciting – and I’m pleased that we have done it before BETT, the educational technology show at Olympia, London, in January. We will have desktop and laptop PCs on show on the Microsoft stand and people to help and advise. Just think what we could achieve if all 30,000 visitors took the opportunity of GetOnline@Home back to their classes and their schools. On the website there are leaflets and posters to share with students and families – and clickable links which can be dropped into the school portal to keep the offer in the public eye.

Schools can support the offer – and share it through the Pupil Premium

Simply sharing the news might help individual families embrace the offer and level the playing field – at the moment it is only 5 per cent¹ of students who don’t have access to a PC at home. But schools can embrace this offer too. One of the things they can spend their Pupil Premium money on is PCs for students who don’t have one at home: we know that the Department for Education regards ICT access projects as being “within scope” for spending the Pupil Premium.

The 5 per cent of students with no access to a PC at home statistic comes from the final evaluation of the Home Access programme – and I was very struck by something one of the teachers in that evaluation said: "The majority of students do their best work out of school hours, where they can concentrate for extended periods and follow up any creative ideas they have been inspired by.

"Without a computer at home, students at this level are really missing out. Though they can use the study area before and after school, it's very easy to tell who hasn't got a computer at home because of the quality of the work."

I’ve spent the funds Microsoft gave me on setting up the site and creating the offer – and have nothing left for big awareness campaigns – so I am trusting word of mouth. If people like what they see, they may feel encouraged to share the news. Do go to www.getonlineathome.org and see if there is anyone you know who would have a brighter Christmas and a better 2012 for having one of these PCs.

As Linda, who got her PC for the family over the summer, says: “This is a great deal, and it’s only right that other people should know about it.”

Clare Riley is group manager for education relations with Microsoft in the UK

More information

Microsoft Education on Twitter

Microsoft Education Facebook page

BETT logoBETT 2012, January 11-14
Olympia, London
Microsoft: stand D40 & D30

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