Embracing virtual GCSEs

What’s it like to complete the entire GCSE syllabus online?

As the scope for digital learning continues to evolve, schools and educators alike are starting to recognise the true potential for the future of learning online and how it could add a new dimension in terms of providing support for children with specific individual needs and requirements. Experts are also considering how we might use learning platforms in the future to boost how we teach in the classroom, how we engage pupils using varied techniques and also how we can provide a more personalised approach to educating the young.

With exam season upon us again, albeit another year of teacher-assessed grades, the GCSE and A level syllabus is also under the spotlight once more as we question not only the future validity of an exam-based curriculum, but also the potential of studying the entire syllabus online. With rising numbers of students opting to home school and/or learn remotely from home, many are doing just that. Learning the entire GCSE syllabus virtually has been made possible via sophisticated, online platforms which teach pupils via a mixture of video, audio, text and discussion-based modules along with live, subject lessons with a real teacher.

Evaluate and monitor

As with all virtual education, it’s key that the technology or platform used is regularly quizzing the student and challenging them on what they’ve learnt and their understanding of it before they can move onto the next topic.  This is where intervention must be present to evaluate and monitor GCSE progress. Although online learning can be extremely efficient both from a learning and teaching perspective, the learning itself must be tracked and monitored in the real world.

Just as they would in the physical classroom, mentors and teachers must have full visibility of a pupils’ understanding and attainment of everything they are learning at GCSE stage, and it’s vital that work is reviewed ongoing, and marked, with effective interventions and feedback given, ensuring that pupils develop as they move through the syllabus while identifying any struggles or bottlenecks to learning.

Of course, just as home learning doesn’t fit for every child, completing GCSEs online isn’t for everyone either, but it does work for a selection of pupils, and for good reason. For example, those children who are excelling in their studies beyond the pace of their peers, might wish to take their exams one or two years earlier – online learning facilitates this. Talented athletes and sports professionals, for example, who wish to study their GCSE’s or A-levels in a more flexible way that fits around their training and match schedules, would be ideal candidates for learning the syllabus digitally.

How do exams work?

Likewise, pupils with specific educational needs or disabilities may benefit from a more personalised approach to the delivery of the GCSE syllabus rather that the more traditional process. Equally, pupils struggling with their mental health may find that learning online alleviates certain anxieties and ensures the child still achieves their fullest potential when exams eventually arrive.

When it comes to exams themselves, pupils who have learned the GCSE syllabus online, will take theirs in person at a local exam centre.  Many schools will be able to help families find the best exam centre in their local area regardless of the town or country they live in. Just as with all independent schools, there’s an exam fee depending on the subject or exam centre. Probably most important of all is the question on most parent’s lips: are the GCSEs and A levels that online students take regarded the same as they would be from a physical school?  The answer is an absolute yes.  Regardless of whether studies have been completed in school or virtually, it’s the same curriculum, the same exams and the same exam boards.

So, how has it worked out for those pupils who are currently studying for their GCSEs virtually? What have they seen as the main benefits? Did they struggle with any aspect of learning online rather than in a physical school? What have they noticed about learning virtually for GCSEs and A Levels?

Meet some of the pupils at Minerva’s Virtual Academy as they reflect on studying for their GCSEs online…

Image source: Minerva’s Virtual Academy

Oleg is in Year 10 and is studying for his GCSEs. He said: “I started my online school with a mentoring session, which was offered to me as soon as I joined. This was very helpful as I got used to the format online schooling offers to students. I found that my school mirrors the traditional university format. This impressed me most, as it prepares you for real life, by giving you the personal responsibility and the authority to control your own time, which is a useful life skill.”

Alice is also in Year 10 and learning the GCSE syllabus online. She commented: “’I like the way my timetable is spaced out. Previously, I was at a traditional school, but I was feeling overwhelmed with my subjects being back-to-back. Now I get time to breathe, to reflect and to learn. I know that if I need help with my GCSE studies, I can always ask my mentor. I have access to all of the materials 24/7 so I can always go back over my work too.”

Image source: Minerva’s Virtual Academy

Audrey is another student at the academy, her parents said: “Audrey loves the lifestyle she can enjoy when she is in control of her own day, working at her own pace and taking on extra work to challenge herself. We often come into to the kitchen after work and Audrey is doing a chemistry experiment or building a model, so online learning is not all screen time either. We are becoming very comfortable with the fact that there are many paths to success for children and that traditional school does not always bring out the best in every child. “

Adam is in Year 10 at the academy and is enjoying the structure of the GCSE syllabus online. He commented: “‘The one-to-one personal mentoring sessions I receive alongside studying for my GCSEs are great because it’s a nice way to talk to someone about how you are feeling as you progress. I think the virtual assemblies we attend are also a good idea too as we discuss what is going on in the wider world.”

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