An inquiry is under way after a Birmingham school wrote to low-income families demanding a £432 payment to enable children to have access to a computer.

Les Lawrence, the city council cabinet member for education, said he would investigate as a matter of urgency after being told that the school concerned is in one of the most deprived inner city areas of Birmingham.

The revelation is deeply embarrassing since Coun Lawrence has recently high-lighted a £5.6 million council programme to provide laptop computers free of charge to children living in socially deprived areas.

News of the letter to parents came on the day the cabinet rubber-stamped a multi-million contract to provide new computers to schools across the city.

Cabinet members were told in a report that the new computers would provide pupils with cutting-edge technology and enhance learning opportunities. There was no mention of parents being asked to make a financial contribution.

Details of the letter were revealed by Sir Albert Bore, leader of the council opposition Labour group.

Sir Albert did not identify the secondary school involved, but said a parent who drew the letter to his attention was "furious" about the implication that children unable to pay would not have a computer to work on.

Sir Albert (Lab Ladywood) added: "The letter states that parents will be required to contribute £12 a month for three years in order for their child to have a computer.

"That is over £400 for one child or more than £800 if you have two children. It is money that most parents would simply not have.

"The school in question is in one of the most deprived parts of our city and it is just not on to ask parents to pay for their children to be educated. I find it absolutely incredible and I hope we can have some answers very soon."

The letter appeared to have been sent by the school without the knowledge of the education authority.

Attempts were under way by council officials last night to contact the head teacher and find out why the appeal for financial assistance was thought necessary.

Coun Lawrence (Con Northfield) said he shared Sir Albert's concerns. He added: "Not so long ago, just before Christmas, we provided computer equipment and access to the internet at no cost to 10,000 families in particular economic circumstances."

He said the contract approved by the cabinet yesterday would allow schools to buy computers that could then be utilised by children "throughout their lifetime at school".

Coun Lawrence added that some schools did have a tendency to ask parents for financial contributions.

However, in this case, he would "seek to dissuade the school" from demanding cash for computers.

Cabinet member Ayoub Khan, who holds the local services portfolio, said he knew of a school that was asking for parental contributions toward the cost of buying "state-of-the-art" laptop computers worth £800.

Many parents were happy with the arrangement, he insisted.

Earlier this year Birmingham City Council highlighted how 8,000 secondary school pupils will have been issued with a personal laptop by the end of this academic year.

The roll-out focuses on youngsters in the most deprived parts of the city in a bid to bridge the "digital divide".

Under the scheme - the biggest of its kind in the country - laptops are supposed to be made available free of charge.