Online Schools: Studying for I/GCSEs and A Levels

Which UK-based schools offer an online education for secondary and sixth form students, and how are I/GCSEs and A Levels being taught remotely worldwide?
Online Schools: Studying for I/GCSEs and A Levels
By Carli Allan
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How do online schools ‘teach’?


Students from around the world can log onto lessons at Pearson Online Academy UK Global

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.

Many schools, including Minerva’s Virtual Academy, Harrow School Online and Pearson Online Academy UK Global, use the ‘flipped classroom’ teaching method, where secondary students work through interactive self-study materials first, then attend a live lesson in a virtual classroom.

At Harrow Online School, for example, A Level students use a combination of interactive self-study lessons, live lessons in a classroom, and one to one support from their teachers. Students work through their interactive self-study materials to develop an understanding of subject content, and then have lessons in a virtual classroom. And at Pearson Online Academy students study the main content of their A Level studies through interactive self-study lessons, then have two live lessons a week to practise and apply what they have learnt.

Jo Vigneron, Principal at Pearson Online Academy, highlights the advantages of this online teaching style.

"For many of our students it is the flexibility that online schooling offers that suits them so well. Our online courses allow our students to study at a time and pace that best suits them. Students are supported in planning their timetables, taking into account, any commitments and interests they have beyond school. This flexibility also enables families to travel and/or re locate without the additional stress of finding an appropriate school with suitable curricular, pastoral support and in a realistic location.

"A huge advantage of working online are the skills our students develop in self-discipline, time management and personal organisation. To support the development of these we offer our Study Skills and Personal Development Curriculum where students are coached as they develop their own work ethic and habits that are effective in enabling them to be independent learners and productive both now and in their future university and work careers."

You can expect class sizes to be small (they rarely exceed 20 students, and some schools also teach smaller tutorial groups of six to eight students in ‘Breakout Rooms'); as Headmaster Lawrence Tubb at Minerva's Virtual Academy says, "We keep class sizes small so that the lessons can be truly interactive and so that all students have the opportunity to ask and answer questions, and take part in discussions."

In another example, 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.

Students who prefer the comfort and convenience of studying at home to a traditional classroom setting can thrive in these alternative education settings.

Alice, a Year 10 student at Minerva’s Virtual Academy, describes her positive experience:

“I like the way the timetable is spaced out. Before I was feeling overwhelmed with my subjects being back to back, now I get time to breathe, to reflect and to learn. I know that if I need help, I can always ask my tutor. I have access to all the materials too 24/7 so I can always go back.”

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

Next: Wellbeing and extra-curricular activities

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