Online schools are on the rise. Catalysed by the pandemic and combined with a growing dissatisfaction with traditional educational systems, this mode of schooling is fast becoming an accepted and sought-after alternative.
If you’re a parent who’s seeking options for your child because their current school is not working out, who wants to explore the best available modes of education available, or who’s looking for an efficient and simple mode of homeschooling, then we’re here to cover all you need to know about online schools.
Equally, if you’re a student that wants to know more about the other methods of learning, or if you’re a tutor or teacher seeking to switch-up how you work, then this article covers the basics, logistics and commonly-asked questions regarding online schooling.
We’ll cover the differences, advantages and disadvantages between online and in-person schooling, the basics regarding how an online school actually works, as well as the logistical details such as admissions, exams and costs.
Online Schools: All You Need To Know (The Basics)
What is an Online School?
An Online School offers everything a regular school does – live lessons, a regular timetable, homework, exams, sociality and extracurricular opportunities – but the institution and its participants are connected online, rather than meeting in a particular building.
Online school typically consists of a mixture of Live Lessons and interactive Self-study, facilitated by education-led technology, also known as a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or a Virtual Learning Platform. Live Lessons are conducted via video link.
Are Online Schools accredited in the same way that traditional schools are?
In the UK, Online Schools are not currently registered and accredited like traditional schools are. However, due to the rising popularity of online schools, this policy is currently being reviewed by the Government.
All pupils who attend an online school take their exams as a ‘private candidate’. For this reason, local councils often mark pupils who attend an online school as being ‘homeschooled’.
What are the main differences between Online and traditional schools?
Aside from students receiving their Live Lessons via video link rather than in person, the main difference between online and traditional schools is the increased emphasis on Self-study that online schools feature.
Self-study doesn’t just mean ‘free time’, though. Students participate in bespoke modules usually conducted via a school’s particular Virtual Learning Plaform. Self-study means students are still learning in a formalised manner, but by participating in interactive quizzes or engaging with video or other types of content, rather than sitting receiving a lesson from a teacher.
There is also the difference that comes from not attending live lessons in the same place every day: online school pupils will not be encountering as many fellow students in person each day.
How does it all work? (Syllabus, Lessons, Timetables, Etc!)
This can vary from school to school, but typically an online school will offer the same version of a traditional schooling syllabus, working towards the UK’s recognised exams: GCSE, A Level, etc. There may be an increased flexibility in optional subject areas, but the syllabus will cover the same fundamentals and necessities required for each respective year: for example, English, Maths and the Sciences at GCSE.
There is a set weekly timetable, just as at a regular school, with Live Lessons lasting one hour each. These will be interspersed with the Self-study components for each subject. Homework is set in the same way, and often schools will have some portal for submitting, tracking and monitoring progress.
Some schools incorporate extra-curricular activities and After-School clubs – still taking place via group video-call – within their school weeks, and provide parent-teacher evenings too. Sport and exercise is left to the student and parents to organise.
What are the main advantages and disadvantages of Online Schools?
- You can study from anywhere
- Ability to specialise; better control over your education
- (As a parent) More time and flexibility to be with your children
- Minimal social distraction, anxiety or stress caused by peers
The portability of an online school is a huge advantage: you can study anywhere there’s an internet link – as is the lack of distraction and decreased potential for social stresses like bullying.
Being free to study without the worry of navigating the often complex and fraught social landscape of school frees a student up enormously. They’ll also be able to work better at their own pace, meaning they can get ahead if they want to: no sitting through long classes on something you understood ages ago.
Many students learn better online, too: the medium is more invigorating, captivating and suited to their attention spans.
- Less face-to-face contact with teachers and other pupils
- More screen time
- Emphasis on self-motivation or potential parental motivation
An obvious disadvantage is the increased screen-time and decreased in-person time a student will have with their teachers and fellow students. In general, a good online school will make every effort to encourage social development between their pupils, but pupils will not have as much contact with each other as they would at a traditional school.
If a student is prone to losing steam without regular checking and motivational input, online schools can sometimes offer the chance to drift slightly: working from home can be distracting for some. It really comes down to what type of learner your child is: someone who needs the social bustle of school to carry them along on its current, or someone who is more distracted by this sociality and might be sacrificing their study for it.
What is the difference between Online Schooling and Homeschooling?
Homeschooling means children are taught at home, either by their parents or by private tutors. Online schooling means children are taught at home by an organisation or ‘school’ that operates in a virtual environment.
Homeschooling thus means the emphasis lies on the parent to act as ‘administrator’, organising timetables, syllabus, coordinating teachers and registering for exams. An online school operates just as a regular one does: once enrolled, a student is organised and provided for in these regards.
Online Schooling: The Logistics
Courses or full school experience?
Some organisations are labelled ‘Online Schools’ but only offer online ‘courses’ for GCSE and A Level. Individual GCSE and A Level subjects are purchased and studied independently. This is different to virtual schools that offer a ‘full-school’ experience. For example, these schools would offer a full range of subjects, weekly assemblies, and after school clubs, all for one yearly fee.
Admissions for different Online Schools may vary, but generally admissions are open all year round and pupils can join during term time, unlike joining a traditional school.
Exams and mock exams occur at the same times during the academic year as at a normal school. Online schooled pupils will sit their exams at their nearest centre, registered and booked in by their particular institution.
On average, the cost for a year at a fully-flegded Online School could be anywhere from £5000 to £12000 per year.
Resources for Students
Any textbooks and paper materials have to be bought and provided by parents, but the school will generally make it clear / provide a list of what’s needed for each subject. These costs shouldn’t be huge: History has a textbook, English Literature will have its resepctive novels/anthologies.
Certain things will be needed for every student, such as
- A working computer (Laptop or Desktop PC) with internet function and camera
- Dedicated study area
Online Schools usually follow the recommended Government holidays, with Christmas, Easter and Summer holidays and half-terms within each semester
Special Educational Needs & Disabilities
Virtual Schools are uniquely placed to help students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Studying away from the crowded classroom environment means pupils are less likely to become distracted. Typical SEND triggers such as social pressure and overly-loud environments are also reduced or eliminated. Some online schools, like Minerva’s Virtual Academy, will also provide speicalist mentors to help children with SEND issues
Online Schools will typically have a Safeguarding lead, just like at traditional schools.
Want to know more?
If you have any questions about online schools, from the broadest to the most specific, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Minerva Tutors. We run an award-winning online school and are specialists in the field.
We can help walk you through the process and answer any questions you might have: we pride ourselves on working out what’s best for every individual pupil.