Online Schools: Getting a Primary Education

Which UK-based schools offer an online education for primary-aged children, and how is teaching delivered to students from Years 1-6 worldwide?
Online Schools: Getting a Primary Education
By Carli Allan
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Online Lessons and Timetables


How do online schools ‘teach’? Unlike the temporary remote learning programmes that schools adopted worldwide during the pandemic, fully-fledged standalone online schools have their own teachers, a curriculum designed for online learning, and a community of remote learners.

There has been a huge shift towards more live, face-to-face teacher interaction since the first online schools opened in the 1990s – and today’s students are logging onto cloud-based schools that use technology such as Google Classroom, Google Meet, Jamboard, Zoom and Canvas. Schools have become more creative and adventurous in their use of technology – although this varies between schools – and lessons may be delivered using quizzes, videos, whiteboards, notes, recordings, presentations, screen sharing and co-web browsing, to name a few.

Lessons for younger children are generally 40 minutes long and they increase to an hour for older students; the timetable may also include self-study time to reinforce what students have learned in class, as well as regular homework assignments. At most schools, lessons are recorded so that students can revisit a lesson they didn’t understand or catch up if they had to miss a lesson due to illness, an audition, or a sporting commitment. Class sizes rarely exceed 20 students, and some schools also teach smaller tutorial groups of six to eight students in ‘Breakout Rooms'.

While there are some similarities, there’s no ‘standard’ online school – and there’s no one size fits all approach to online education. The timetables range from flexible to formal, and it’s all about finding the right fit for your child.

Depending on the subject and student’s age, King’s InterHigh’s timetable includes both ‘lead’ lessons (seminar-style) and an ‘explore’ lesson (tutorial of up to 20 students). There are advantages of a lead lesson where the teacher is not interrupted by students raising their hand or asking questions, as the school explains. However, this type of lecture-style lesson relies heavily on engaging resources, or students of this young age can get bored and lose interest.

Mark O’Donoghue, CEO of Inspire Online Schools (which owns King's InterHigh) says:

“As we are online, our teachers can fully focus on teaching for the whole lesson. There is none of the usual disruption and behavioural distractions one might expect at a more traditional classroom environment.”

Oxford Education Online (OEO) offers teaching from eight years and above (Years 5-6), with a combination of live lessons to small group classes of up to five students, and a weekly 1 to 1 tutorial.

Year 3 lessons at My Online Schooling are described as “fully interactive, collaborative and practical, allowing pupils to fully engage with their learning as they would in a physical classroom.” The school adds:

“Your child will be encouraged to move, play, explore their surroundings and collaborate with their peers through break-out rooms and whole-class games and discussions.”

At Sophia High School, there’s a maximum class size of six students in the core subjects of English and maths and up to 12 students in the other subjects. “This means that each lesson is tailormade to the needs of each individual student and ensures that our digital curriculum is highly interactive for every student.”

David McCarthy, Director of Education, Sophia High School adds:

“The delivery of each subject focus is done via the teaching of two to three-week content blocks where each IPC lesson during this period focuses solely on the subject at hand as children move through the learning tasks and assignments, which each lesson building on the subject objectives covered in the previous lesson with students working towards the presentation of their final projects towards the end of the learning blocks.”

Some schools, including My Online Schooling, give students the option of muting their mic and switching off their webcam; it can be a gamechanger for students who prefer to talk to the class by typing in a chat box. Others may expect students to be ‘present’ and actively engaged in the lesson.

Just as you’d find in a traditional school, there are opportunities for students to have learning support. My Online Schooling, for example, offers extra support in its Thrive Group, which is available via teacher referral, and iBOS is an inclusive school with a dedicated SEN coordinator and learning support assistants in every class.

Teachers at iBOS deliver lessons from classrooms at a campus in London

It’s not just how the lessons are taught, it’s who is teaching them. You should be looking at what experience and qualifications the teachers have, is there a head of primary to oversee the curriculum, where does the school recruit its teachers from, and does the school have specialist teachers for any primary subjects?

While most teachers will deliver their lessons from a kitchen table or a home study, teachers at iBOS are based in formal classrooms equipped with interactive whiteboards; the school also has a science lab where teachers can demonstrate live experiments (it’s not quite the same as making an erupting bicarb and vinegar volcano yourself, but it helps to bring the subject to life).

The norm is for primary students to be taught all subjects by one dedicated teacher, just as primary students would be in a traditional classroom. As My Online Schooling explains,

“Our Year 3 pupils are cared for by a dedicated teacher who will teach each of their subjects throughout the academic year. This means you and your child are able to build a strong, ongoing relationship with their teacher, helping to take the distance out of remote learning.”

King’s InterHigh has made several key changes since the merger of two online schools, King’s College Online and InterHigh, as the school's new Exective Head Ashley Harold explains:

“This year, the appointment of single class teachers across subjects per form in Years 3 and 4 creates a familiar, nurturing environment for our younger students. While day-to-day teaching and learning will continue to evolve for students, their experience will be immediately bolstered through a number of new appointments and offerings.
"Heads of School at each Key Stage (from KS2-KS5) will ensure students are guided effectively at every stage of their development, including a dedicated Primary Head with experience in primary education.”

Next: Wellbeing and Extra-Curricular 

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