After the sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the world over the past two years, some families now see online learning as the ‘new normal’. An online education provides a flexible alternative to brick-and-mortar schools for children of all ages. And with the increasing demand for online education, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, a small but significant number of online schools have launched a primary education in recent years, some for as young as four-year olds.
While the choice may be limited compared to the number of online secondary schools, students aged four to 11 years do have the opportunity to learn from home. Online schooling is certainly not the right fit for every child – and there are challenges and obstacles that come with online schooling, particularly for younger children. It’s very dependent on parents working from home, the hours of screen time will be a huge negative for many, and it lacks the social interaction of the playground and classroom.
However, online schools are a good choice for some. It may be that homeschooling is a lifestyle choice, you are living overseas, your child has SEN or medical needs, they are a victim of bullying, or you simply prefer the alternative to what your own school is offering. Whatever the reason, it’s important to select a school that best suits your family.
WhichSchoolAdvisor takes a closer look at what online schools in the UK offer in terms of primary education, how teaching is delivered, and what it costs.
What is an online primary school?
Whereas parents act as full-time instructors when homeschooling, an online school will offer daily, interactive live lessons that follow a traditional school timetable. You’ll be enrolling your child into a school, just as you would at a regular school, except they will be learning from home.
While some online schools offer a curriculum package, where students study the full range of subjects that would be taught in a primary school classroom, others offer a ‘pick n mix’ style of schooling where parents can enrol their child for as many or as few subjects as they like. If you’re a homeschooling parent who wants help with some lessons (if you couldn’t understand algebra at school, how can you expect to teach it?) then the latter is a gamechanger.
Most schools offer the option of signing up for as little as half a term up to a full academic year, which can help parents looking for a short-term solution for a child recovering from an injury through to a more permanent arrangement for a child who cannot settle within a traditional classroom.
Which online schools offer a primary education?
There’s a small number of UK-based online schools offering a primary curriculum to students living within the UK and overseas, and we’ve highlighted below some of the most established, most innovative and most popular.
One of the most well-established online schools, King’s InterHigh recently launched its Juniors programme for Years 3, 4, 5 and 6 (ages 7-11). This online school delivers a timetable of lessons every weekday morning during term time; these lessons are recorded so that students can revisit the lesson at any time. The King’s InterHigh Juniors curriculum includes a broad primary curriculum as well as weekly tutorials and a weekly Common Room session with projects, activities and guest speakers. Parents can pay extra for lessons such as drama and music.
Launched last August (2020), Sophia High is a new kid on the online learning block. Founded by former headteacher Melissa McBride, Sophia High offers a daily schedule of timetabled, live and interactive online lessons for children from as young as four years; it’s also trialling provision for gifted children in Early Years (FS2) who show “high levels of academic ability and potential to work within the UK’s Key Stage 1.”
The International British Online School (iBOS) is an all-through online school, offering a full primary curriculum for Years 1-6. The school is quite unique as its teachers deliver lessons via the internet directly from classrooms at its London-based campus. (At most online schools, teachers are working from their own home.) Also, students have a full daily timetable of live lessons, compared to a more blended approach at other schools where live lessons are broken up with tutorials and private study time.
Based in Cambridge, Cambridge Home School Online takes what it describes as the “best aspects” of the National Curriculum for England and the Cambridge schools’ curriculum. It delivers a challenging and rigorous education for students aged eight to 18 years. The school is unashamedly selective and says that it is looking for outstanding students “with goals and dreams”. Students have the option to submit a personal statement as part of the admissions process (at an extra cost of £299), and there is often a long waiting list for places.
My Online Schooling offers an all-through education from Year 3 through to Year 13 and, with a choice of timetables based on UK or Australian Western Standard Time, it has global appeal. Founded in 2017, this online school has a reputation for its strong SEN support and delivering on its promise to offer “an outstanding education that is accessible to all”.
Lady Evelyn Independent School is a Muslim online school, launched only last year, which enrols students from Years 1-6. While the Islamic faith is at the centre of the school’s ethos (and the daily timetable includes Arabic, the Quran and Islamic Studies) students of all faiths and of none can enrol. Named after the first British Muslim woman to make the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1933, the school also builds its timetable around Eid and Ramadan holidays.
Other online schools include Oxford Education Online (OEO), which offers Years 5-6, small class sizes of up to five students, private tutorials. It has a broad international appeal, not least because it offers flexible programmes and timetabling, including weekend lessons.
Another school that is frequently discussed by parents looking for an online education is Wolsely Hall Oxford, which delivers more of a homeschooling model that is very much parent-led. Students aged five and above can sign up to a range of primary courses that follow the UK curriculum. Tutors offer support and feedback (including a video call) for every assignment, as well as progress report for each subject every three months. Parents receive a weekly lesson plan for each subject, which can be completed at their own pace, and there is an assignment to complete every three weeks.
Children can enrol at Wolsey Hall for any number or combination of subjects, and at primary level these include English, French, maths, science, computing, geography, history, art, music, French, mindfulness and PE. Parents are charged per subject, which is around £425 per year. The school is certainly one of the more affordable ‘online ‘schools in the UK, but there is a huge difference; it does not follow a structured school day or offer a timetable of live lessons.
How much does an online primary school cost?
The cost of an online education varies considerably, just as fees fluctuate between private schools in the UK or international schools overseas. You’ll almost certainly be paying far less than you would for a UK independent school, and rightly so, but be aware of hidden additional costs. At some schools, such as iBOS, all course resources are online, while others such as King’s InterHigh will have a recommended book list that you’ll be expected to buy. Look at payment terms; schools such as King’s InterHigh offer the flexibility of a rolling contract where you can pay every half term, while others will ask you to commit to an annual contract.
To offer an idea of what a primary online education will cost in the UK, here’s a snapshot of some annual and termly fees.
|Online School||Admissions||Termly Fee||Annual Fee|
|King’s InterHigh||Years 3-5||£1,190||£2,750|
|Sophia High School:||Years 1-6||£2,500||£7,500|
|Cambridge Home School Online||Years 4-6||£4,000|
|My Online Schooling||Years 3-6||£850||£2,550|
|Lady Evelyn Independent School||Years 1-6||From £765||£2,295|
|Oxford Education Online||Years 5-6||£3,000||£9,000|
How do I apply to an online primary school?
The process can be quick and easy. With most online schools being non-selective, it’s as straightforward as uploading your child’s birth certificate and proof of address and paying the fees. Your child can be registered with a school in as little as 48 hours.
Be careful not to rush into making a decision though. Most online schools have online open days, live chats and sample lessons for you to view before you make any hasty decisions on which school is right for your child.
When does the academic year start?
Schools follow the UK academic calendar, which runs from September to July. The day starts anywhere between 7.15am-9am until 2.45pm-4pm, UK time from Monday to Friday. Some UK-based online schools have bases elsewhere in the world and teach across multiple time zones, such as My Online Schooling and King’s InterHigh.
Are online primary schools accredited?
There are more than 20 full-time online schools in the UK, and they are currently unregulated. While they are legally allowed to operate as they fall under the category of homeschooling in many countries (including the UK), they are not currently accredited in the UK. However, the UK is launching a voluntary Online Education Accreditation Scheme (OEAS) in early 2022 which will accredit schools that meet certain standards based on the legal expectations of independent schools in the UK.
In 2021, a small number of schools took part in a pilot OEAS inspection by Ofsted, the UK school inspectorate, including King’s InterHigh, Sophia High School, iBOS and Apricot Learning Online. Ofsted says that the Department for Education is “looking at how children, parents and local authorities can be assured of the quality of education and appropriate safeguarding arrangements through an online schools accreditation scheme”.
Schools may also be members of COBIS (Council of British International Schools) and/or the Council of International Schools, both international networks of schools.
What curriculum do online primary schools follow?
Most online schools follow the National Curriculum for England, but not all. Sophia High School follows the IPC (International Primary Curriculum) in the Primary Years where IPC units are taught thematically across the primary phase, and Cambridge Home School Online offers what it describes as the “best aspects” of the National Curriculum for England and the Cambridge Primary curriculum.
Schools will typically offer a curriculum package of core subjects – maths, English, science, reading, humanities, PSHE, and a choice of one language (normally French or Spanish but options such as Mandarin and Arabic are offered at schools including My Online Schooling and King’s InterHigh). Schools have the freedom to develop their own curriculum (they do not have the constraints of a UK state school) and King’s InterHigh offers one of the most innovative primary curricula, which includes creative media and STEM.
The creative arts, including dance, drama, music and art, can be an add-on at some schools, and part of the core curriculum at others so it’s something to look out for if your child is particularly creative. Other optional subjects can include computing.
Some schools allow you to select only the subjects you want your child to study; at Lady Evelyn, for example, there’s a choice of 8-11 subjects in the primary years including phonics, maths, science, arts and crafts, Arabic and PE. If you want your child to have a well-rounded education though, or to transition back to a traditional school, it’s important to select a school with a broad curriculum.
Next: How do online schools ‘teach’?