If you are considering removing your child from school to home educate them, you might be considering an online school in the the UK as an option. This post will explore what an online school is, the pros and cons of online schools, how to choose an online school and list some that you could consider.
What are Online Schools?
Online schools are a fairly recent invention, essentially coming out of the need to homeschool during the pandemic. While some companies and independent tutors run online classes for specific subjects, online schools aim to provide a one stop shop for home educating.
Lessons are usually delivered live via the internet. Children login at the required time and the teacher delivers the lesson just like they would in the classroom. Most online schools also set homework to be completed.
Online schools generally follow the National Curriculum and aim to mimic the education a child would receive if they attended a school in real life. While some just offer the academic lessons, many also offer other activities you’d get in school like tutor time, assembly, extra curricular activities and even school trips.
What is the Status of Online Schools in the UK?
The UK government doesn’t currently recognise online schools (also known as virtual schools) as schools in the traditional sense. Although online schools can now apply for accreditation through the Online Education Accreditation Scheme, your child still won’t be considered as attending school. This means that if you choose to use one, the Local Authority will still consider you to be home educating your child. You will need to monitor your child’s learning and progress with the online school in order to be able to demonstrate that your child is receiving an appropriate education.
It also means that online schools are essentially unregulated. If you choose a school that doesn’t take part in the Online Education Accreditation Scheme, you will need to do your own checks. You’ll want to ensure that the staff who will be teaching your child are qualified and you may also want to make sure that they have been checked by the school to make sure they don’t have a criminal record that would preclude them from working with children. This check is called a Disclosure and Barring serve check or a DBS check.
The Online Education Accreditation Scheme is still very new so few online schools have had time yet to be accredited. You can check on the OFSTED website if you want to find out if the one you are considering has been assessed.
The Pros of using Online Schools
There are some really great benefits to using an online school if it’s the right fit for your child:
- Online schools might work well if you are keen for your child to follow the National Curriculum, perhaps because they might return to school in the future.
- If you lack the time to source resources for individual subjects online schools provide a package solution.
- If you lack confidence in providing an education for your child an online school can be reassuring.
- If you are homeschooling and working and have limited time to provide home education, online schools are a way to pay for someone else to do much of the work.
- If your child likes structure and doing set work they can be a good choice.
The Cons of using Online Schools
There are also some significant drawbacks to choosing a online school:
- Online schools tend to be very expensive.
- The “school at home” model won’t suit all children, particularly those with school trauma.
- You will still need to understand what your child is learning in order to be able to share their learning with local authority.
- There may be restrictions on which subjects you can take.
- Online schools provide a less hands on education than you might if you were homeschooling in another way.
- It may not be very engaging for younger children.
- Younger children may still need you by their side to help them.
- Your child may find it difficult to engage on screen.
- If you are studying for I/GCSEs or I/A-Levels in most cases you’ll still need to book and pay to take the exams locally.
Advice for Choosing an Online School
As noted above, online schools are unregulated so it’s important to research your choice thoroughly. Start by finding out what qualifications the the teachers hold and making sure that the school completes a DBS check before hiring them. You should also remember that a DBS check only shows something if a person has been caught and doesn’t guarantee they aren’t a danger to children.
If you were choosing a real world school you would certainly expect to meet staff and have a tour of the school before making your decision. The same goes for a virtual school. Most online schools will offer the chance to have a “discovery call” to discuss how the school works and see if it’s a good fit for your child. While there is no physical building to tour you should ask to see the online learning environment that they use.
A trial lesson should also form part of your decision making process. This gives your child a chance to experience the online school before you commit. This is important because the termly fees are often expensive so you don’t want to waste your money if it isn’t right for you or your child.
It is useful to find out how the school feeds back to parents. You will need to provide the local authority with enough information to demonstrate your child is receiving a suitable education and feedback from the school can really help with that. You should also look into their policy on information sharing to make sure they that won’t communicate directly with the local authority against your wishes.
You should also try to get recommendations from people who have used the online school you’re considering. The easiest way to do this is to ask in Facebook groups. There are plenty of large groups so you’re likely to find people with experience of the one you’re interested in. My favourites are Home Education for All and Home Education and Homeschooling Help and Support UK. The latter is a public group so you can have a look without joining but bear in mind if you post or comment it could be seen by your Facebook friends.
Online Schools in the UK
Kings Inter High
Kings Inter High is one of the largest and longest established online schools. It offers programmes for Primary, Secondary and 6th Form. Kings Inter High has classes sizes of up to 20 learners and offers a range of IGCSEs in year 11. They use the Edexcel exam board and have been part of their trial for online exams.
My Online Schooling
My Online Schooling starts its offer at year 3 and carries on to Secondary School and 6th form offering a range of IGCSEs and International A-Levels. The maximum class size is 20, virtual break out rooms allow for smaller group work. There is a House system, virtual common rooms, after school clubs and regular assemblies with guest speakers.
Cambridge Home School Online
Cambridge Home School Online describes itself as a selective private online school. In its admissions information it states that it is more concerned by effort than grades when “selecting” pupils. It also mentions that it’s happy to place children in the right year group for their ability, irrespective of age. Its offer runs from year 3 (Key Stage 2) up to 6th Form (Key Stage 5).
UK Virtual School
UK Virtual School has classes for children from Year 1 to Year 11. They have small class sizes at a maximum of 10 students per class. Assemblies, school council and coaching tutorials are available alongside the core learning which includes a reasonable variety of academic subjects.
The British Online School
The British Online School offers learning for key stage 2 (years 3-6), Key Stage 3 (years 7-9) and Key stage 4 (years 10 and 11). Class sizes are a maximum of 15 students, they offer extra curricular clubs, assemblies, tutor time and even an ebook lending library.
The Online School
The Online School puts a high priority on mental wellbeing and has a zero tolerance policy on bullying. They cater for children from year 3 to year 11 and class sizes are generally below 17. Their classes run Monday to Thursday with every Friday off and are no more than 4 hours per day.
Sophia High is one of the first online schools in the UK to pass the Government’s new Online Education Accreditation Scheme. They enrol children from the age of 4 up to 16. As well as the academic lessons they also offer performing arts, careers workshops and mindfulness.
Elea High takes children from year 7 up to year 13 but doesn’t have a primary school provision. They offer a good range of IGCSEs including Drama and Global Citizenship. They also offer the Extended Project Qualification which is an independent research project.
Wolsey Hall Oxford
Children can start at Wolsey Hall Oxford from 4 years old and carry on until they are 18. They don’t offer live lessons but instead learners work through course materials themselves. Children have occasional video calls with their tutors and can email them at anytime.
Minerva’s Virtual Academy
Minerva’s Virtual Academy caters for children from 11 to 18, effectively UK High school ages. Learners have personal mentors to support them and optional school trips are arranged to give children the opportunity to meet each other. It’s one of the few online schools that offer Art and Design (although they do charge extra for it) and music at GCSE level.
International British School Online
International British School Online takes learners from year 1 to year 13. The school aims to cater for International students and as a result starts very early in the UK morning. The school has its own exam centre in London where learners can sit their exams.
Oxbridge Online School
Oxbridge Online School is for children 11 – 18. As well as academic lessons it offers assemblies, a debate club and language clubs.
Thomas Keith Independent School
Thomas Keith Independent School supports learners from year 1 to year 13. Class sizes are below 20 and extra curricular activities are offered including cookery, drama, debate and boardgames club. They offer a good range of languages at IGCSE.
Acorns to Oaks
Acorns to Oaks caters for primary school aged children, 5-11 years old. It offers the full range of subjects that make up the Primary school National Curriculum and parents can choose with ones they would like their child to do.
If you’re considering an online school because your child would like to take GCSEs you can find out more in our post on how homeschoolers take GCSEs and our post on online GCSE courses. If you’re looking for a cheaper homeschooling option, check out this post on Free Homeschooling Resources for 11-16 year olds. You might also be interested our post about the different types of homeschooling resources that are available.
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