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There are basic expectations - to show up for lessons, be on time, do homework etc. But if you don’t, school is more likely to offer support than crack the whip. Teachers are described as ‘kind’ and ‘understanding’. ‘They know my family, not just me.’ ‘You can message them anytime to ask a question and every single time they come back to you.’ ‘The teachers have been more supportive than at any other school we’ve experienced.’ Homework, which is always marked, is on the heavy side. Practicals for science clearly pose a challenge, but...

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What the school says...

Established in 2013, Net School is proud to offer a high quality online education based on the English National Curriculum for students aged between 9 and 18 years.

Our well-qualified, experienced teachers are chosen for their love of teaching and for their ability to inspire and to build confidence, whilst small classes ensure your child gets the focused, personal attention they need to achieve their full potential.

We are delighted to welcome new students to our Primary, Key Stage 3, IGCSE and A level courses - please visit our website to find out more about our flexible, individualised approach to online learning.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Director

Since 2013, Susan Reed MA PGCE (40s) Read history at Christ’s College, Cambridge before moving to Manchester for her PGCE and later an MA in art gallery and museum studies (museum education beckoned at one time). Taught secondary history in both the state and independent sector (UK and abroad) then moved into online teaching in 2009 when she was living in Cyprus. ‘I became a teacher at Briteschool and had no idea how I’d feel about it. Would it be fun? Would I have a chance to get to know the students?’ Yes and yes turned out to be the answers.

Launched Net School four years later because she felt ‘there just wasn’t the teaching quality parents were looking for in online schooling, nor the individualised approach or flexibility’. Still teaches history – ‘If I had to choose between two hats, teaching would win every time.’ Lucky for the students as she’s their favourite teacher. We can see why – she’s upbeat, engaging and big-hearted. Far more hands on than most online school directors – appreciated by parents and students alike. ‘She’s always available.’ ‘A wonderful role model.’ ‘Has thorough understanding of children’s struggles.’

Apart from all things historical, interests include travel (she’s lived in five different countries), working on her French language skills and practising yoga.

Entrance

Any time throughout the academic year in years 5 to 9. For IGCSE and A level courses, most students join in the September of years 10 and 12 respectively, although school sometimes accepts latecomers depending on their previous studies and aptitude. Non-selective up to year 12, but students need a good enough grasp of English to access the curriculum. For A level entry, students need at least a 6 in relevant subjects (with a few exceptions on a case by case basis).

Exit

Because students dip in and out of the courses they need, there is no neat exit route. Pre-COVID, most students stayed at least two years but since the pandemic that’s halved, with more transience than ever and some attending lessons for as little as a term. For those who do GCSEs, the majority go on to sixth form colleges to study A levels. First cohort of A levels will take exams in summer 2022.

Latest results

In 2020, 78 per cent 9/7 at IGCSE. In 2019 (the last year exams took place), 86 per cent 9/7 at IGCSE.

Teaching and learning

Flexibility is the name of the game here. Whereas some other online schools only offer packages, parents can enrol their child into Net School for as many or as few subjects as they like from years 5 to 11, plus – more recently – A levels. This pick-n-mix style of schooling – coupled with Net School’s reputation of being more academic than other online schools (results are consistently good), is a major pull for home schooling families. ‘We use them for the core subjects, tutors for humanities and I teach them the rest,’ was a typical parent comment. ‘I don’t see it as a school, but a provider of lessons,’ said one. Some like that their clever clogs offspring can race ahead (one parent told us her child was in a GCSE class aged 11) while others, conversely, can put their child back a school year or two in certain subjects to catch up after perhaps school or because they couldn’t keep up in their last school.

For years 5 and 6, there’s a ‘core curriculum’ on offer of English, maths, science and humanities – six hours split over three days; students can add eg modern languages from the older years. At KS3, there’s maths, English, science, history, geography, computer science, French, Spanish, Latin and PSHE. At IGCE, there’s English language and lit, maths and further maths, all the sciences, computer science, history, geography, Latin, Spanish and French, plus class civ for UK-based students. And the small but growing number of A levels include maths, sciences and computer science. ‘If they don’t offer a subject you want, they’ll consider putting it on – they did that with year 6 Latin for us,’ said one happy parent. Subject clinics, extra one-to-ones and study skills courses also available.

Unusually for an online school, classes are capped at 12 students and many are smaller. All are taught remotely by the 20 subject specialist teachers, who are UK qualified (many have postgrad degrees and doctorates in their subject too) with classroom experience in mainstream schools. A happier bunch of teaching staff you’ll be hard pushed to find, again with flexibility the main attraction. ‘I started here when I had young kids – I could pop out and breastfeed between lessons,’ raved one, whose bread machine bleeped during our chat (a timely reminder of another nice perk of remote teaching). ‘And I can live anywhere, which is great as my husband moves country a lot.’ Teachers like being outside of Ofsted control - ‘means you can cater to individual student needs,’ reckoned one.

Teachers are described as ‘kind’ and ‘understanding’. ‘They know my family, not just me.’ ‘You can message them anytime to ask a question and every single time they come back to you.’ ‘The teachers have been more supportive than at any other school we’ve experienced.’ Teaching goes well beyond the curriculum too – debating more common than spoon feeding. ‘You don’t gel with everyone, but that’s like any school,’ said one student.

Lessons are long, ranging between one to two-and-a-half hours, but there are breaks. All are recorded so you can catch up later. ‘At real school, my attendance was low because of my anxiety – now if I’m too nervous to attend, I can just catch up,’ said one student. Interaction for attendees is encouraged, but not forced. ‘You can take the mic and speak or, if you want to stay anonymous or are more introverted, just send the teacher private messages,’ said a student.

Homework, which is always marked, is on the heavy side. Practicals for science clearly pose a challenge, but students get stuck in with kitchen experiments (have your food dyes and kitchen roll at the ready) and watch lab based videos – and most years there is an IGCSE practical science weekend available in Cambridge labs (including visits to some of the colleges).

Blackboard is the software used for primary students; Electa for older ones. ‘But we might change Electa soon as it hasn’t evolved at the rate we’d have liked,’ says director. Technical glitches can be frustrating, report parents, but aren’t common.

Learning support and SEN

Just under a quarter have some form of SEN (everything from dyslexia to selective mutism), yet there’s no SENCo. Head of pastoral care ‘keeps an overview of our register of students, which contains details of any SEN that parents have disclosed to us.’ Teachers (many of whom have classroom experience of SEN) are then made aware and adapt learning accordingly (‘small classes help,’ said parent). Twilight CPD sessions available for teachers on eg ASD and anxiety disorders. Occasional EHCPs.

The arts and extracurricular

Nada by way of taught lessons for art, drama and music – a shame, we thought, as some online schools have found innovative ways around this. But it’s not as if they haven’t tried (‘We ran KS3 music at one time, but it just didn’t grab people – I think if they’re keen on music, they do it out of school’) and parents we spoke to don’t seem to mind. Drama forms part of English lessons.

Clubs are a different story. There are plenty and they’re free. Creative writing tops the bill (‘brilliant!’ raved a student), with others including coding, photography, cartooning, Spanish conversation and wellbeing. Occasional trips, if parents are willing to get stuck into organising them – one parent told of her child going to Winchester, Oxford and Pompeii.

Sport

Non-existent, said director until she did some digging after our meeting and – to her delight- found that the school provides links to several optional workouts eg Joe Wicks, Holly Willock’s cardio dance workouts, Just Dance Kids etc. Parents we spoke to were in the dark about this, though weren’t bothered. ‘It’s easy enough to join sports clubs where you live,’ shrugged one.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 2013 with 45 students and a small number of IGCSE courses. ‘I wanted to create a school with more subjects, more quality, more flexibility and a more individualised approach,’ explains the director and founder. It’s grown organically ever since, now averaging 140 students at any one time (180 since COVID – ‘We’re still not sure if those numbers will stick’). No HQ – everyone works remotely.

The jury’s out on whether there’s a sense of community. Some students told us of friends they’d made and how they look forward to eg logging on to classes 15 minutes early for a catch-up with them (teacher is always present). Even the school was surprised by how many students ordered Net School hoodies when they launched them a couple of years back. But other families felt there was too much ‘dipping in and out as needed’ to warrant any real sense of belonging. And while some said they didn’t mind, others felt it would be nice to have some sort of common room (‘Too difficult as it would need to be moderated,’ says school). ‘Sometimes kids have just left and my daughter hasn’t even had a chance to get their email address,’ said one parent.

No procedure for DofE inspecting online schools yet, but school commits to gladly sign up when there is.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Given that many online students have had their confidence knocked out of them from bad bricks-and-mortar school experiences, you’d think pastoral care would go with the territory of all online schools, but sadly we know that’s not always the case. Good news is it does here. ‘The school is small enough to be able to notice stuff,’ said one parent. Head of pastoral (not all online schools even have one) is a trained counsellor (although they don’t offer counselling), as well as a teacher, and renowned for being proactive – calling parents if student hasn’t logged in for several lessons, offering help with organisation, study skills or self-confidence, to name a few. PSHE classes also available at extra cost.

There are basic expectations - to show up for lessons, be on time, do homework etc. But if you don’t, school is more likely to offer support than crack the whip. Director recalls one student for whom homework caused so much stress that she couldn’t face any at all for two years, but then built it up slowly and four years later was meeting deadlines as quickly as her peers. However, one parent felt ‘Some teachers could be better at saying, “I haven’t heard from you much in the lesson – is everything ok?”’ No bullying, say students, and ‘if anyone goes too far with having fun in lessons or are disruptive, the teachers deal with it well,’ reckoned one student. Global community (though school doesn’t collect data on ethnicity) makes for diverse classes. ‘I’ve had lessons with students from Saudi Arabia, France and Canada in one class, which makes for some interesting debates,’ said a teacher.

Pupils and parents

Four main categories. Main core are the traditional home educators – parents who have chosen home schooling as a lifestyle choice, perhaps because they travel (16 per cent of students are currently based abroad) or don’t like the sausage factories that they feel mainstream schools have become. Next up are those who have children with SEN, mental health issues or medical needs. Third are the child specialists – the pianists and, in some cases, young entrepreneurs (‘We had the UK’s biggest exporter of slime at one time’). Fewer young actors and sports elite than at other online schools, though. Fourth, and most recent, are those for whom COVID has prompted them to seek out a more structured online schooling offering than their own school is offering. Sixteen per cent based overseas.

Money matters

At the more expensive end for online schooling, though still a long way off independent school fees. For a typical primary student taking the core curriculum (six hours a week), it’s £744 per term. For a typical KS3 student taking 10 hours of tuition a week, it’s £1215 per term. IGCSEs are £294 per subject per term (or cheaper if the student studies 10+ hours a week overall). A level fees are £690 per subject per term, with a 10 per cent discount for 10+ hours a week. Some students are funded by their local authority. All extracurricular clubs are free.

The last word

A flexible, modern way of learning that teaches youngsters to be self-motivated, independent learners. Produces more free thinking than at some other online schools – particularly good prep for university. Stands out for being easy to dip in and out of to suit your individual requirements – no scarily long commitment necessary. The personal touch is evident too – nobody feels on a conveyer belt here.

Special Education Needs


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