Alex’s father had landed a too-good-to-be-true work opportunity in the UAE, but there was one major problem: Alex. The work visa was due to come through in December, by which time Alex would be a term into his A levels.
It’s times like these that online schooling can be a godsend. As long as a student has an internet connection and a quiet space to study, they can take their school with them wherever they go, whether that’s following mum or dad for a work relocation, or splitting time between families in different countries, or travelling the world without sacrificing their studies.
Many of us became familiar with some kind of online education during the pandemic, but purpose designed online schools are streets ahead of the emergency provision we’re likely to have encountered. Some of the myths about an online education deserve to be examined.
Online schooling sacrifices the social aspect of education
This may have been the case ten years ago when online schools tended to have cameras off and few opportunities for student-to-student interaction, but modern online schools are much better at recognising the importance of the community aspect of schooling, with clubs, common rooms and house systems designed to provide a sense of belonging and opportunities to socialise. Look around for schools that promote peer-to-peer interaction and perhaps even hold occasional meet ups in person.
It’s not going to provide the academic rigour I’m looking for
Just as with bricks and mortar schools, there are a range of online schools, with some catering specifically for students who are academically ambitious. The top online schools compete with top UK independent schools for academic results; for example, in summer 2023 students at Harrow School Online achieved a 78% A*-A rate for A levels in 2023, placing it in the top 1% of schools in the UK. Highgrove Online School has a similarly academic ethos, but caters for GCSEs as well as A levels.
We won’t be able to take GCSE and A level exams through an online school
Students who enrol in a reputable online school for UK school years 10-13 take the same external examinations as those enrolled in traditional schools. These are usually GCSE and A level exams, although some online schools offer BTECs or IB as an alternative. Look for an online school that will take care of exam registration on your behalf and look for an examination centre that is local to you. Ideally your online school will be registered as an exam centre and will enter you as a candidate first, then transfer your registration to your local exam centre. This takes the paperwork off your hands and means that any issues with the examinations such as requests for re-marks and resits can be raised with your school directly.
Top universities won’t consider students from an online school
Top universities are very happy to take on students from online schools, including for hands-on degrees such as medicine and engineering. Universities are used to taking on applicants with a range of hands-on practical experience due to the differences between international schools worldwide. Students who’ve graduated from an online school tend to be particularly good at time management and independent study, and anecdotally find it less of a challenge to adjust to the study regime of universities than students who have attended more traditional schools.
Online schools can’t cater for pupils with Special Educational Needs
In fact, online schools often provide the ideal environment for those who struggle to focus in a more traditional school, with fewer distractions and a more flexible approach to the pace and timing of studies. Check that the school has a SENDCo on their staffing team and ask to speak to them prior to enrolment to check that the environment will suit your individual needs.
The best online schools replicate a traditional school programme
Studying online is different from studying in a bricks and mortar school, and what works well in one doesn’t necessarily translate to the other. Forget about spending your day in large teacher-led classes. The better online schools typically use a flipped learning approach, where students work through interactive self-study lessons independently before joining small group tutorial lessons; some will also allow students to book individual time with their teachers to work through areas of difficulties. Be wary of online schools offering a significant part of their provision through lecture-style lessons or video tutorials unless you have a very self-motivated learner, and look instead for interactivity and personalisation of learning.
Alex was hesitant about joining an online school at first, but found a school that specifically catered to ambitious students wanting to achieve top grades, and met with a couple of students to talk through what the experience was like for them before he signed up. After starting his A levels he discovered that one of his classmates was based in the UAE, so by the time he moved out there, he already had a friend waiting for him. Two years later, Alex came away with four A*s at A level and a place at a prestigious US university. Regrets? Absolutely none.
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