The UK’s OEAS inspection will look at ways in which online schools foster socialisation and encourage students to engage with each other outside of the academic lessons on offer. This area has not been a strength of online schools in the past, but it has now come to the fore.
Most schools will have a virtual common room, where students can directly message one another and discuss hobbies and interests. There may be weekly celebration assemblies where students can share their learning, students can sign up for free extra-curricular clubs and societies, and they normally start the school day with a tutor group session.
At My Online Schooling, students can register for up to three clubs of their choice per term, from chess to sign language, art to debating. Sophia High’s Beyond the Curriculum programme include activities such as computer science & coding, careers workshops with palaeontologists, a book talk series, and virtual talks from charity organisations. The school has also just launched a Changemakers leadership team with students from Year 1-9, giving even its youngest students a “voice”.
King’s InterHigh holds all live lessons in the morning, allowing for a fairly screen-free afternoon for students with less-structured learning such as tutorials and after-school clubs.
Mark O’Donoghue, CEO of Inspire Online Schools (which owns King's InterHigh), adds:
“We have small groups and year group and primary assemblies. Each student is assigned a “house” and house competitions are run throughout the year. Wellbeing is important and incorporated into the curriculum and events and activities organised throughout the year. We offer extra-curricular activities and clubs that students can sign up for on a termly basis.”
A high number of students opting for online learning have health or emotional issues. While providing the pastoral care that children need can be more challenging when teaching remotely, mental health and wellbeing is no longer an after-thought at many online school.
For example, My Online Schooling has a Learning & Wellbeing Support Hub which offers anxiety management lessons, laughtercise sessions, one-to-one counselling sessions, and a weekly wellbeing club. At Sophia High School, all teachers complete a mindfulness course, and weekly PSHE and wellbeing lessons offer coaching to students on mindfulness and meditation, self-regulation and social responsibility.
David McCarthy, Director of Education, Sophia High School, says:
“Mental wellbeing and mindfulness at Sophia High School are seen as an essential part of our curriculum, rather than something that is offered alongside it. Our aim, in putting mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of our purpose and direction, is to create a safe and calm online learning environment and to strengthen the growth mindset, self-belief and resilience of our students.
“Throughout the year, our PSHE and Mindfulness lessons introduce the concept of mediation, and how meditation helps clear the mind of clutter and negative emotions. We explore the key areas of mindfulness such as: What does it mean to be healthy? What are emotions? What is the mind? What does it mean to be emotionally or mentally unhealthy? Is it OK to be sad? (‘negative’ emotions are perfectly natural). How can we help ourselves and others to deal with ‘negative’ emotions? Is it possible to observe your own mind?”
Next: How involved do parents need to be in their child’s online education at a primary-level?