The idea of an online school was the brainchild of Paul and Jacqueline Daniell. Paul’s MSc qualification and engineering experience was then supplemented by teaching. Here he saw the lack of provision and choice available in the established school system for those children for whom a physical school was a challenging experience or those who wanted a different medium of education.
With the available software of eleven years ago, Paul and Jacqui then established a full online secondary school programme staffed by qualified teachers. In September 2005 when the school opened and 27 pupils enrolled for this revolutionary medium of teaching. Then as now the pupils followed the Key Stage 3 Curriculum for England in English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, French and a few months later Spanish. Although practical subjects could not be offered, the school has always started with an exercise programme for students and staff on a Monday morning. At Key Stage 4 students have always been entered for Edexcel iGCSE GCSEs. The A-Level programme followed in due course.
A new medium of teaching
This pattern of schooling continued with much greater pupil numbers and an expansion of subjects offered. At Key Stage 3 students can study Computer Games Development and Design, Film Studies, Child Care and Babysitting, while the Key Stage 4 curriculum now includes Business Studies, Film Studies, Certificate of Business Languages and Computer Game Development and Design. The rapidly expanding A-Level pupil numbers has been matched by a range of subjects from the Cambridge International Exam Board. Latin, Economics, Media Studies, Psychology, Sociology and Classical Studies are taught in addition to the core curriculum subjects from iGCSE. Interest clubs such as Chess and Art supplement the academic studies. Pupils regularly meet on Friday afternoons for the Common Room discussions and there is an established Careers programme, Cascaid, which students can access at any time.
‘The 24/7 nature of the school is evident in the resources offered, particularly the lesson library, where all lessons are always available for student review along with teacher recordings of lessons, which help independent study’
InterHigh currently has over 400 pupils enrolled from Year 7- Year 13 for the last academic year 2014 / 2015. The 24/7 nature of the school is evident in the resources offered, particularly the lesson library, where all lessons are always available for student review along with teacher recordings of lessons, which help independent study. All students have a wealth of data on their own dashboard log in; their timetable, homework, records of completed assignments with grades, targets, forums, notice boards, school chat, live support are all always available to students and to their parents who are able to monitor their child’s progress through their own parent log in. As pupil numbers are kept below twenty in each class, pastoral and academic concerns, whether generated by pupils, staff or parents can be quickly picked up and dealt with.
Pupils study at InterHigh for a variety of reasons: they may have anxieties about attendance at a physical school; they may be chronically sick or recovering from illness; they may have significant other interests and skills such as sports; their family may be relocated and the portable education provides stability; they may just prefer this medium of education.
How do the children learn?
Classroom software enables students to log on to their scheduled timetable at 9am UK time. The school week follows in the same way as physical schools with each class following a regular timetable; lessons are generally an hour long. Because there is no need to physically move around classrooms time can be managed efficiently with Key Stage 3 classes finishing around 1pm. Key Stage 4 and A-Levels continue throughout the day. Every lesson generates homework, which is set and marked online according to National Curriculum or external exam assessment objectives. Teacher feedback is given so that many of the structural features of a physical school are on offer at InterHigh.
The online teaching of lessons is naturally a distinctive feature. Pupils need a computer with internet access and a headset. Teachers upload lesson power points which form the core of the lesson but are approached and discussed in as varied a range as in a physical school. Pupils and teachers do not always see each other as this is regarded as an unnecessary distraction in core subjects when the sound links and interactive whiteboard tools work so well. Teachers and pupils have a variety of means for teaching and learning. Teachers and pupils use the microphone; teachers and pupils text in the public part of the online classroom where all students are encouraged to contribute. There is also the facility for private one to one texting between teacher and pupil on any matter, just as a teacher can talk to a child individually in a school. Teachers can use break out rooms for smaller group work and with the software available, pupils have the facility to contribute and present their work, again just as in a physical school.
Distinctive features of online learning
With so many parallels between physical and online schooling, the distinctive features of InterHigh should be highlighted. There is minimal opportunity for disruption by pupils who are deprived of any physical audience; parents can sit in with their children to follow lessons and thus be very conversant with their child’s education; children from very many areas of the world learn together, through the medium of English and this global perspective on education arguably prepares children for their place in a global community. In subjects such as Geography, pupils from many countries are able to give first-hand accounts of their landscape and culture. With pupils and teachers on first name terms a whole barrier is stripped away so that children are able to enjoy a fresh relationship with learning, a very appropriate attribute adopted by this school.
‘For some children frustrated by classroom disruption and even bullying, this lack of contact enables focused learning’
Critics point to possible isolation of children who are not in physical contact with each other though this is rarely a reality. For some children frustrated by classroom disruption and even bullying, this lack of contact enables focused learning. Other children contact each other through the school’s social website, ’My InterHigh’ and in lesson breaks. Many children attend other clubs and activities outside the school and some older students take a blended programme of physical and online schooling; anything is possible. An important feature of InterHigh is that all children and their parents are invited to meet each other and collaborate over a weekend in an arts / sports based programme in a UK boarding school and this year in a UK activity centre. Firm friendships here and in the classroom point to the strong bonds generated by InterHigh’s personal, inclusive and welcoming ethos.
Ten years on the rapid growth and above national average exam results are tangible proof of the success of this innovative form of education.