ARE ON­LINE SCHOOLS THE FU­TURE?

Plans for an on­line ‘school’ could change the way chil­dren are ed­u­cated but is there re­ally a fu­ture with­out class­rooms?

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE -

There are many par­ents who feel the frus­tra­tion of the school sys­tem from time to time with some opt­ing for home school­ing. But what about those who do not feel they can teach their child them­selves?

JO-ANNE ROWNEY speaks to Tom Scott from Wey Ecademy, an on­line free school, about why he feels that is the an­swer

THINK back to when you went to school and there

be a few fa­mil­iar mem­o­ries – strug­gling out of bed when the alarm goes off. Dash­ing to catch the school bus. Meet­ing friends and so­cial­is­ing in the school play­ground. Hur­ry­ing from class to class as the wind howled in the depths of win­ter.

Yet all those mem­o­ries could be con­signed to the his­tory books if a trail­blaz­ing new school gets the go-ahead in Bucks.

This rad­i­cal new school is bound to raise eye­brows among teach­ers and par­ents and could her­ald the big­gest change to our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in cen­turies.

For this school is based en­tirely in vir­tual re­al­ity.

A free school called Wey Ecademy al­lows chil­dren to learn en­tirely via e-learn­ing mod­ules on a com­puter. The child can choose for them­selves when to start their stud­ies each day. If the weather is bad they need not brave the el­e­ments, or even wear a school uni­form.

If they have a ques­tion for the teacher rather than risk em­bar­rass­ment by rais­ing their hand in class they can send a mes­sage across the world­wide web to a teacher, who can send a typed re­sponse back in­stead.

The move is bound to do won­ders for cut­ting school traf­fic, play­ground bul­ly­ing, the spread of head­lice and coughs and colds. But is it re­ally healthy in a child’s de­vel­op­ment to be locked away in front of a com­puter screen in­stead of mix­ing with peers and teach­ers?

The on­line school, regis­tered in Buck­ing­hamshire, re­cently ap­plied to the Depart­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion for free school sta­tus. It is hoped it will give par­ents the op­por­tu­nity to home school their chil­dren even if they are not con­fi­dent of teach­ing young­sters them­selves.

They were re­fused, but given ad­vice and are now aim­ing to ap­ply again for 2015.

Busi­ness­man and for­mer teacher Tom Scott is part of the board push­ing for­ward with the con­cept.

He has al­ready helped set up free schools in South­wark and Harpen­den after 25 years in business and a ca­reer as a sci­ence teacher.

The board also in­cludes Dame Erica Pien­aar, an ex­ec­u­tive head­teacher un­til her re­tire­ment.

The group boldly state they hope to ‘re­shape ed­u­ca­tion in Eng­land’.

Mr Scott said: “The con­cept of the Wey Ecademy is to cre­ate a school en­tirely on­line.

“They can log in wher­ever they find them­selves.”

Mr Scott feel this con­cept ful­fils a need, specif­i­cally for chil­dren who strug­gle in the main­stream en­vi­ron­ment but also for par­ents want­ing more choice.

“We knew that there were par­ents who think about home school­ing but per­haps don’t feel able to pro­vide it,” he said.

“Where is the op­tion for them? We think Wey pro­vides that op­tion. There’s that need.

“There are ar­eas where schools are just not as good as, say, a gram­mar or pri­vate school, why should a child have less of an ed­u­ca­tion? This way there’s another choice.”

So why Buck­ing­hamshire? An area praised for its gram­mar schools.

“We have to have a base and Buck­ing­hamshire made sense,” Mr Scott said. “London is ex­pen­sive, but Buck­ing­hamshire is near and also has a great rep­u­ta­tion for school­ing.”

The Ecademy makes the en­tire cur­ricu­lum avail­able all the time so chil­dren can catch up, go over a les­son, or work ahead.

It begs the ques­tion of what the in­cen­tive is to get up on time, but Mr Scott does not see this as an is­sue.

“They may have been un­well or un­fo­cused. We know teenagers strug­gle more.

“They may have slept in or

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