Students attend small classes online during weekday mornings, leaving the afternoons free for outings, practical activities, and ordinary family and social life. Classes concentrate on core subjects: English, Maths, Sciences, History, Geography and a language (currently French, Spanish to be added as an option). The monthly fee is £165/ £38 a week, equivalent to a bit under £4 a one hour lesson.
Classes are delivered in private online classrooms, interactively. Teacher and students can communicate instantly as a group using both voice and text chatroom software. Teachers can instantly display any web page to illustrate a point, whether spontaneously or as a prepared presentation. Powerpoint, Word documents or custom html and image files can also be used as class displays.
A student concentrates on no more than two subjects each day. The senior class has begun preparation for GCSE exams. Younger students have lessons that check the general recommendations of the National Curriculum but are not restricted by it. All classes set homework.
BULLYING, SHYNESS, CONFIDENCE OR HEALTH PROBLEMS
A high proportion of the students registered were identified by their families as suffering from the effects of bullying, or as "shy", or as struggling with significant confidence problems. Several have serious health problems. Yet Interhigh teachers have found them, after only a little initial hesitation, to be a remarkably lively bunch, bubbling over with enthusiasm and excitement in this new kind of school.
LEARNING IS FUN
The school Head, Paul Daniell has strictly directed his staff to "make the lessons as fun as possible, there is no reason why learning can not be fun".
The main problem teachers have found so far is that many students are not at all used to the lost tradition that learning is fun. There has had to be a good deal of careful explanation - and demonstration - of the school policy. Students showed signs of shock! but already by the end of the first week students are saying "Cool!" and "I really enjoyed that lesson" and are busily comparing notes on how to tackle a wide range of creative homework projects.
About half of the first Interhigh students are already familiar with being home educated. UK minors are not required legally to attend school as long as a suitable education is provided at home. Home education has grown enormously in the UK over the last ten years, in common with the USA, Europe and other countries. Home educated children are by now well known for their academic success and high social skills. However, home education is at its most popular among families with younger children. Although it is perfectly possible for families to prepare older children for GCSEs or other qualifications, parents do find this later stage more challenging, and the option of support from Interhigh through secondary years has been welcomed.
The school plans to help its students socialise both through supervised online chat sessions within the school itself, and by exploring the wealth of clubs and projects available later in the day in their local areas.
ONLINE EDUCATION (CML)
As repeated studies have proved it is crucial that online teaching technology is used thoughtfully, to embody the best type of attentive, small scale, student-centred learning. A good teacher is enhanced by new technical tools; a poor teacher exposed by them.
There is a regrettable exploitation of cml (computer mediated learning) where adminstrators cut costs by contracting good teachers to design an online course, then dump the teacher, and employ a cheaper course graduate totally untrained in teaching or groupwork, to run it unchanged, thereafter. This kind of degraded education is becoming infamous for its poor results. But good quality cml is proving its worth as a friend to good teachers and to a great variety of non-standard students, alike.
TIME WILL TELL
Only time will tell whether this explosion of enthusiasm by Interhigh students will carry through beyond the novelty stage. It is certainly well past time for school education to leap out of the crowding and stress of 19th century methods into the freedom of 21st century technology. 21st century young people respond very positively and productively to the keyboard and internet methods that will, after all, dominate their future. But Interhigh will still need to ask for old fashioned virtues like self-discipline, and patience, as well.
For Paul Daniell and his Interhigh teachers it has been a challenging, and exhausting week - online teaching is not a soft option, and any new pioneering project needs a lot of extra work to get it up and running. But all the recent effort is totally worth it to see these young minds perking up as they realise there is nothing to fear, and a whole universe to explore.