Here are 10 important questions to answer to help you choose the right online school for your child.
1. Following the period of distance learning during the pandemic, families have a much clearer idea of what a virtual school is. But, before making the decision to break out of the traditional primary or secondary school mould, consider if this is the best academic track for your child. Will they benefit from the classroom teaching that physical schools can now offer, or will they thrive in the more independent study environment of a virtual school
2. While some virtual schools deliver synchronous (live) lessons for most of the daily timetable, others depend heavily on asynchronous (on demand) learning which removes much of the live interaction. The advantage of live lessons is that students can hear and see the teacher, and take part in the lesson. Also, are lessons recorded? If so, students can catch up on a lesson they may have missed, or re-watch if they need a refresher for homework or exam revision.
3. Does the school have the reputation and experience of running an online programme? Online schools are not currently Ofsted-inspected like physical schools in the UK, but the Department for Education is launching the Online Education Accreditation Scheme in 2023. This sets minimum standards for all online schools in the UK to meet, and the DfE will start to inspect online schools that have signed up to the scheme very soon.
4. Does the school teach the UK curriculum, and does it offer GCSEs and A Levels as part of is secondary and sixth form education? At most online schools, it’s your responsibility to book your exams as a private candidate at an approved centre that is convenient for you; exam dates are nationally set so you’ll sit your exams at the same time as all other students in the UK.
5. Not every subject lends itself to a smooth transition to online learning and, as distance learning has taught us all, specialist subjects such as PE, art and languages are challenging to teach beyond the classroom. So, ask how the school is teaching these practical and creative subjects. Also, consider that if your child wants to purse a creative degree then they will be unable to study qualifications such as drama, which requires a live performance component, or photography, where schools need to verify that all work is completed by the students on their own.
6. As many teachers in traditional schools can now testify, online teaching is an entirely new experience. It requires tech-savvy teachers of a certain personality type and with a certain mindset. So, you need to ask, who are the teachers – and are they technology-trained and adept at using virtual classroom technology?
7. Online teachers need to develop different methods of teaching and evaluating; but how do they check for understanding, for example, if they are not present in the classroom? It’s important that teacher:student ratios are kept low so that students can still get the support needed. Also, students should have access to varied channels of feedback such as Google Classroom, one-on-one during Zoom classes, interactive learning boards like Explain Everything and Educreations, and GSuite tools such as Google Docs.
8. While online schools offer a very different option to home schooling – parents are the full-time teachers in the latter – they do require some degree of parental involvement. Many parents thrust into the role of distance learning ‘teacher’ over the past year can vouch for how daunting, challenging and time-consuming it can be. At a certain age, children are not able to self-regulate, so consider that online schooling is perhaps better suited to older students, and those who can work well independently.
9. The biggest missing link in a virtual school is social interaction. So, what happens to the social aspect of learning when students are not attending a physical class, and don’t have the opportunity for face-to-face interactions with their peers You should be looking for a school where students meet in real-time through video meets and chats and, if living close by, they can meet and become friends.
10. And, finally, check the geographical restrictions. If an online school is based outside of the UK, they may deliver live lessons based on a different time zone, which could mean registration ad early as 4am or as Kate as 10pm if you live overseas!