Online schools are not new, but Covid has encouraged many families to take another look. Here’s our guide to key players

The Good Schools Guide reported that Google searches using the term ‘online school’ rose by over 600% between summer 2019 and 2020. Online schools are nothing new, but two things have thrust them into the spotlight more recently: first is Covid, and second is the enabling power of technology (and better connectivity in our homes). This makes online schooling a viable possibility for many more families.

Traditionally, families choose an online school for specific reasons. There are families outside the UK who still want their child to benefit from the British system. For others, there is a physical/time constraint – their child is an elite sportsperson, actor or musician, for instance. The third group choose this option because their child is unable or reluctant to attend physical school for health/wellbeing reasons or simply does much better with a different mode of learning. Whatever the reason, there are some excellent and well-established specialists in the mix. Here’s a round-up of three major players. 

Harrow School Online

A hallowed British school, Harrow School Online brings together the traditions and academic might behind its name, using online teaching approaches. It is focusing for now on sixth-form learning. Harrow Online’s first co-ed cohort started in September 2020, but the school has been a long time in research and planning, both for technology and approach. The school offers a specified syllabus of Pearson Edexcel International A-level courses in Maths, Further Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Economics and Spanish. There’s also the opportunity to take the EPQ. The ‘super-curriculum’ programme includes taught electives on a wide range of subjects.

Entry: Sixth Form, so typically 16-18

Application process: Three stage, beginning with application form and written personal statement, plus proof of English proficiency level if not first language. There is an entrance test and academic interview in each subject applied for. The final stage is an interview with the Principal.

Fees: Typically £5,250 per term for full-time enrolment. Bursaries and scholarships available. Includes exam fees.

Good to know: Pupils study from home at a time and pace that suits them, joining live lessons with teachers, in small class sizes with peers across the world. The school operates within the structure of a complete school programme, with Houses, extracurricular activities and a Success Coach to help keep pupils on track. Expectations are high and so is support – for both character development and grades. Exams take place in approved Pearson Edexcel test centres worldwide.

It says: “We bring the Harrow experience to our pupils in their homes, developing the motivation, skills and determination of our pupils through an education that involves high levels of academic achievement, a diverse range of co-curricular opportunities and a House system that support pupils in their online education.”

More information:

“There are elite young athletes and performers, children of families outside the UK and students who just do better at an online school”

King’s InterHigh

Established in 2005 (making it a pioneer of online school), InterHigh offers live and recorded lessons taught by experienced UK teachers and following independent school standards. Its model of delivery and technology are designed to foster students’ involvement in new concepts and it places great store on immersive, experiential learning and what it describes as 21st-century skills – including empathy, resilience, international mindedness and digital literacy. This is done via subject teaching and extracurricular curriculum, plus its masterclass recordings with subject-matter experts.

Entry: Ages 7 – 19. Non-selective and with rolling admissions. Spoken and written English essential as that’s the language of instruction.

Application process: Online registration form, with enrolment typically within 48 hours. Rolling and annual contracts available. Also offers ‘Learning on Demand’ bespoke programmes and a summer programme.

Fees: Typically £2,750-£5,750 annual fee, depending on age and subjects taken. Excludes exam fees.

Good to know: There are progression talks in the year leading up to GCSE and A levels. Support offered through one-to-one tutoring and tutor groups. In 2019, of the InterHigh graduates who applied to university, 47% went to Russell Group Universities. Next year it’s launching a ‘virtual campus’ with further enhancements to tried and tested social elements that enhance the student experience.

It says: “InterHigh celebrates the career paths and learning journeys of each student and recognises that each student is as unique as the career and learning journey they chose.”

More information:

A parents' guide to online schools
Home school provides personalised education and flexibility

Minerva’s Virtual Academy.

Founded by Minerva Tutors, the homeschooling and tutor agency, Minerva’s Virtual Academy opened its virtual doors in October 2020 for secondary students up to 16. In 2022 a sixth form will open to teach A levels. Pupils here follow the British curriculum, learning at their own pace through a mixture of live group lessons, one-to-one sessions and online modules – all with the support of a personal mentor. They join after-school clubs and attend weekly assemblies. Every pupil joins at least one club and there are termly virtual talks by inspirational speakers for parents and pupils, plus optional in-person meet ups.

Entry: Secondary level for ages 12-16. 16+ from 2022.

Application process: Online ‘register interest’ form prior to a virtual meeting with the admissions team and access for a trial of the platform. The next stage is enrolment, which includes a virtual meeting with the Head of Education

Fees: Typically £6,500 per year, with monthly or termly plans available. Excludes exam fees.

Good to know: Pupils attend live subject lessons, giving them the chance to work collaboratively with their peers. World Changer Projects are led by tutors with special interests and experiences or with external organisations. Weekly Assemblies are about celebrating successes and sharing stories. Weekly wellbeing sessions are designed to develop resilience and mindfulness. 

It says: “Our school is built upon four pillars: Virtual Learning Platform, Mentoring, Collaborative Learning and Community. This allows us to deliver a highly effective, personalised education. Our class sizes are limited to 20 pupils.”

More information:

Note: this article was first published in August 2021 and some details, including typical fees, may have changed.

Further reading: Are exams fit for purpose?