Online schooling is certainly not the right fit for every child – and there are challenges and obstacles that come with online schooling. However, online schools are a good choice for some. It may be that homeschooling is a lifestyle choice, you are living overseas, your child has SEN or medical needs, they are a victim of bullying, or you simply prefer the alternative to what your own school is offering.
Having experienced online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, families worldwide have the choice of returning to learning as normal or considering an online school as a long-term option for their child. The number of online secondary schools is growing, the quality of online education is improving, and the delivery of I/GCSE and A Level courses is changing.
Founded in 2020 during the pandemic, Minerva’s Virtual Academy is among those looking to attract a new generation of online learners. With annual fees of £6,500 for students studying nine subjects at IGCSE, MVA offers an affordable alternative to a private school education.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution to the question of educating young people, and the Academy sees itself as "a refuge" for those students for whom physical school has not worked.
The Academy's Headmaster Lawrence Tubb says:
“The flexibility and mentoring we offer also means that particularly bright pupils have the freedom and support to explore areas of interest and passion outside of the curriculum. Some students who had been doing well at physical school previously actually thrived at home during lockdown and want to continue learning from where they feel most comfortable but with the greatest possible opportunities for collaborative learning and making friends all over the world.
“We also have students who cannot maintain a full school schedule because of their sporting, acting or musical commitments whether in this country or abroad, or whose families travel between countries and do not relish the thought of boarding school. The result is a richly diverse collection of students who have much in common – a desire to make the best of their education, to develop their skills of independence and collaboration, and the active support of parents and family.”
When it comes to I/GCSE and A Level options, students can have as much choice as at a traditional school, and sometimes a greater flexibility to choose any combination of subjects in all year groups. While some online schools offer a curriculum package, where students study the full range of subjects that would be taught in a secondary school classroom, others offer a ‘pick n mix’ style of schooling where parents can enrol their child for as many or as few subjects as they like. If you’re a homeschooling parent who wants help with some lessons (if you couldn’t understand algebra at school, how can you expect to teach it?) then the latter is a gamechanger.
Most schools offer the option of signing up for as little as half a term up to a full academic year, which can help parents looking for a short-term solution for a child recovering from an injury through to a more permanent arrangement for a child who cannot settle within a traditional classroom.
The application process can be quick and easy too. With most online schools being non-selective, it’s as straightforward as uploading your child’s birth certificate and proof of address and paying the fees. Your child can be registered with a school in as little as 48 hours.
There are also selective online schools more suited to high-achieving, ambitious and Oxbridge-seeking students, Harrow Online School certainly being one of them; this virtual sixth-form teaches A Levels for an annual fee of around £15,000 (USD 18,800) and has a more rigorous academic curriculum than many other online schools.
Harrow School Online Principal Heather Rhodes explains the advantages of studying A Levels online.
"Harrow School Online offers a more flexible and individualised manner of study than traditional schools, and the chance for pupils to join a thriving academic community that spans continents.
"There are many reasons our pupils have chosen online schooling over conventional schooling. Some value the flexibility in location, and move or travel between countries during their A level studies. Others appreciate the flexible schedules, which allow aspiring athletes and performers to pursue their passion alongside their A level studies. Many of our pupils just find they work more efficiently online, removed from the distractions of a physical classroom and given the freedom to progress at a pace that best suits them."
Online education isn’t for everyone, though, and it certainly comes with its own challenges. The lack of social interaction can be a pro for some, a con for others. The autonomy that students have can be overwhelming for those who lack self-motivation or time management skills, but it can be an excellent way to develop self-sufficient and independent learners who are well-prepared for university life and beyond.
Not every subject lends itself to a smooth transition to online learning and, as online learning has taught us all, specialist subjects such as PE, art and languages can be 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.
There are geographical restrictions to be aware of too. If an online school is based in the UK, the day starts anywhere between 7.15am-9am until 2.45pm-4pm, UK time from Monday to Friday – which could mean registration as late as 4pm in other parts of the world. However, some UK-based online schools have bases elsewhere in the world and teach across multiple time zones, such as My Online Schooling and King’s InterHigh.
Ultimately, the choice of an online or on campus education will depend on your own personal needs. To help you consider the option of an online secondary school, WhichSchoolAdvisor takes a closer look at where to study I/GCSEs and A Levels online, how teaching is delivered, and what it all costs.
Next: Which online schools offer a secondary and sixth form education?