Need to Know: Online Schools in the UK

Rising numbers of online schools have opened in the UK in the past 20 years, offering a private secondary education for as low as £4,000 a year. But can a virtual school ever be a replacement for the classroom? WhichSchoolAdvisor.com takes an in-depth look at the reality of having a full-time online education, what to look for when choosing an online school, and what options are available for students living in the UK.
Need to Know: Online Schools in the UK
By Carli Allan
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6 Online Schools in the UK

While there are many schools offering distance learning to students in the UK, there are only a few online schools that offer a structured school day and teach the National Curriculum for England. To highlight the different online schools available in the UK, we take a closer look at some of the most well-established, newest, prestigious and affordable schools that are taking education online.

New: King’s College Online

Admissions: Years 10-13 (15-18 years-old)
Fees: The core King’s College Online programme costs £6,380 for a full suite of five international GCSEs and/or four A-level courses; this does NOT include exam entrance fees

King’s College Online was launched in October 2020, offering live-streamed International GCSE and A Level courses to students in China and New Zealand; courses will be available to students in the UK and Europe from September 2021. It was launched by The Inspired Group, which already operates schools in the UK; unlike other virtual schools, it will offer access to physical school premises and facilities for arts and sports subjects. 

Despite the name, the school is not connected to King’s College School in Wimbledon, or King’s College London.

Inspired is an independent school group that already educates 50,000 children in schools across five continents and 20 countries, including Fulham School in London and Reddam House Berkshire in Wokingham. 

In line with the British curriculum being taught, students are required to have appropriate proficiency in English. Entrance is non–selective, though a number of scholarships will be offered. Teachers are recruited from Inspired’s current global network of schools. Students learn through live keynote lessons, supported by personalised tutorial study groups and proactive weekly performance tracking, as well as co-curricular activities such as music, drama, art and coding. They also have access to additional support, such as 24-hour pastoral care and university counsellors.

Winter and summer camps will be run with partners such as sport with the Real Madrid Football Foundation, fashion with Missoni and performing arts with the Berklee College of Music. Students can also opt for an experience in a physical school or school camp at preferential rates.

Nadim Nsouli, the founder and CEO of Inspired, said: 

“King’s College Online is unique in that it is the first online school launched by a premium global group of schools, enabling its students to access prestigious physical schools around the world to complement their online learning. This new project enables even more children to access the best of an international curriculum and allows them to open the doors to the world’s best universities.”

Prestigious: Harrow School Online

Admissions: Years 10-13 (16 to 18 years-old)
Fees:
£15,750 for full-time enrolment, per year, including all exam entrance fees

The UK's famous and very prestigious Harrow School launched an online sixth form offering A Levels in September 2020. International students aged 16 and above can access an education from one of the UK’s top private schools from anywhere in the world. Harrow Online School offers one-on-one academic tutorials, live online lessons, and regular coaching sessions for support for an annual fee of £15,000 (USD 18,800).

Interest in the online school comes from across the world, particularly in markets such as Hong Kong, the UAE, China, Russia and Nigeria. It adds to Harrow’s global expansion, which has seen schools opening in Hong Kong, Thailand and China.

The virtual co-educational sixth-form focuses on STEM subjects (chemistry, physics, mathematics, further mathematics) and economics. Students work towards sitting their Pearson Edexcel International A Level exams, which are recognised by universities worldwide. Harrow Online School also offers a virtual house system, extra-curricular activities (such as a chess club and a student newspaper), and the opportunity to attend a summer course at Harrow School. The school encourages social interaction by expecting every student to take part in at least one real-life arts activity, a sporting activity and a volunteering project in their community. 

Teaching, which is “founded on the traditions and academic excellence of Harrow School", is delivered by UK-based, qualified teachers, who are “trained to the same levels of excellence required by Harrow School”.

At the helm is principal Heather Rhodes who has worked at Harrow School for more than 10 years as the head of English as an Additional Language (EAL) and academic principal at Harrow School Short Courses (HSSC).

Harrow School Online’s principal, Heather Rhodes, said:

“We live in a rapidly changing world, and education must too adapt to the new challenges this presents, and reflect young people’s lifestyles and aspirations.It’s a privilege to be at the forefront of this new chapter of education. We are pleased to be partnering with Pearson using their expertise in this area to make it a reality.”

Well-established: InterHigh

Admissions: Years 3-13 (seven to 19 years-old)
Fees:
From £2,750 (Year 3) to £5,750 (Year 13); this does NOT include exam entrance fees

InterHigh was established in 2005 to deliver live, interactive and online teaching, and it currently has around 1,500 students worldwide, 30% from outside the UK. Enrolling boys and girls aged seven to 19 years, InterHigh offers Primary, Secondary, IGCSE and A Level courses; from September 2021, InterHigh will be adding Year 3 to its Primary School offering.

Class sizes are small (there's a maximum of 18-19 students in any class), all lessons are delivered live and recorded, and lessons are generally two hours a week per subject; each subject has a Lead Lesson (similar to a lecture) and two Follow Lessons or tutorials. Students communicate with the teacher and each other through a wide variety of medium including voice, text, whiteboard, notes, recordings, presentations, screen sharing and co-web browsing. Beyond the virtual classroom, there's a weekly virtual Common Room where students can interact with projects, activities and guest speakers, as well as a varied programme of clubs and societies that students can join; it also offers real-world social events for UK students, including adventure weekends. 

InterHigh enrols students from around the world, but bear in mind that most lessons are between 8:30am and 5.15pm UK time. It's a non-selective school and sixth form, so there are no entry exams, but students must be able to speak fluent English.

The majority of teachers are UK-based, all experienced and highly familiar with the UK curriculum and British education system.

InterHigh says:

"The nature of our teaching environment means that disruptions and bad behaviour are a thing of the past – pupils can concentrate on their learning without interruption and are always able to message the teacher with their particular questions, comments or contributions. Outside of lessons, there are lots of ways to get involved; we have a variety of special interest courses, clubs and societies. Our pupils can share their interests in the common room."

Mentoring: Minerva's Virtual Academy

Admissions: Years 9-10 (12 to 14 years-old); Year 11 A Level programme due to open in September 2022
Fees:
£6,500 per year, with termly and monthly payment plans available

Founded in October 2020 by the homeschooling and private tuition agency Minerva's Tuition, this online secondary school currently offers an online GCSE programme to Years 9 and 10. Subjects offered include maths, English literature, English language, biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as geography, history, computer science, French, and Spanish.

The school delivers teaching through scheduled live lessons – eight one hour lessons a week in an online group class with a teacher. Every student has a personal mentor who they meet with fortnightly for one-to-one mentoring sessions; there are also extra-curricular activities currently including art or film production, a weekly wellbeing session and a whole school assembly.

The school says:

"It is the perfect school for modern times – combining smart technology and engaging online resources with one-to-one support, active group learning and exciting multi-disciplinary projects. We offer pupils the flexibility to learn from the comfort of their home, anywhere in the world, while ensuring they develop the social skills required to live fulfilling lives and succeed in the workplaces of the future."

Selective: Cambridge Home School

Admissions: Years 4-13 (eight to 18 years-old)
Fees:
£4,000 for Primary (Years 4-6) and £9,000 for Secondary and Sixth Form; this does NOT include exam entrance fees

Based in Cambridge, this online school takes what it describes as the "best aspects" of the National Curriculum for England and the Cambridge schools curriculum. It delivers a challenging and rigorous education for students aged eight to 18 years up to Cambridge International GCSEs and A Levels.

There is a daily timetable of live lessons and students are taught in very small classes of eight to ten. Students have access to an archive of video-recorded lessons to help with revision and catch-up, and parents have 24 /7 access to their child's coursework, grades and teacher feedback. Subjects covered in primary include maths, English, science, topic, art, languages and cultures; there's a broad choice of subjects at GCSE and A Level including the traditional options as well as psychology, French, Spanish and art and design. At A Level, students can study subjects including law, sport science, psychology, sociology and economics; there are also A Level equivalent courses in art and photography. 

The school is unashamedly selective and says that it is looking for outstanding students "with goals and dreams". Students have the option to submit a personal statement as part of the admissions process (at an extra cost of £299), and there is often a long waiting list for places.

The school says:

"At Cambridge Home School students are usually far ahead of such students [in conventional schools] because they have not had to contend with noisy classrooms, distractions and teachers that can’t be heard. Cambridge Home School teachers have written units for the examination boards and have spent years marking papers, and so know them better than anybody."

Flexible and Affordable: Wolsey Hall Oxford

Admissions: Years 1-13 (five to 18 years-old)
Fees:
Charged per subject. As a guide, you can expect to pay around £4,000 to study nine IGCSEs over two years, and around £2,100 for three A Levels over two years; this does NOT include exam entrance fees

Wolsey Hall offers Primary courses for children aged five to 10, Lower Secondary courses for children aged 11 – 14, and IGCSE and Level courses. This online school follows the Cambridge curriculum and teaches English, maths, science, computing, geography, history, art, music, French, mindfulness and PE from Year 1. Throughout the school you can choose how many subjects your child studies, and you pay for each subject.

The school is certainly one of the more affordable online schools in the UK, but there is a huge difference; it does not follow a structured school day or offer a timetable of live lessons. Instead your child will be learning through a mix of online and offline study; as well as using course books for each subject, they have access to the Canvas online system which guides your child through each subject using quizzes, videos, websites, tutor prepared material, assignments etc.

This type of on-demand online schooling demands greater self-discipline and a higher level of independence from the student; there's also very little social interaction between students. It is, however, very flexible and will suit students living overseas, or those balancing studies with other commitments. In terms of support, every student has a dedicated tutor who assesses their assignments within three to five working days, and can be contacted for advice and support.

The school says:

"The Wolsey Hall learning system is a carefully balanced mix of online and offline study which we have developed based on our many years‘ experience of providing courses for homeschooling students. Your child can study with Wolsey Hall from anywhere in the world. We now have children (and adults) studying in over 90 countries worldwide from Australia to Zimbabwe."

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