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King’s InterHigh School

The longest established online school in the UK for kids 7-18 has seen interest rise exponentially since Covid. So what's all the fuss about?

WHAT? WHERE?

You’ll find King’s InterHigh on your computer screen. The UK’s longest-established online school, King’s InterHigh teaches kids aged 7-18, before waving them off with their GCSES, A-levels and – for some of its pupils – places at university. COVID has given online learning a new credibility – frankly, what would we have done without it? – and King’s InterHigh is a pioneer, having been launched in 2005 by a state school teacher Paul Daniell and wife Jacqueline who felt that the one-size-fits-all approach to learning was flawed and that online technology could help those children who were falling through the cracks. The school has grown and developed since the Daniells founded it, and last year merged with the King’s College Group to become one of 70 Inspired private schools spanning 5 continents.

Live theatre with live pupils!

If you dream of acres of playing fields and state-of-the-art DT buildings, stop reading now. The obvious weakness of any online school is, well, it’s online. So King’s InterHigh is a niche offering and parents need to balance up the importance of the life skills taught on the hockey pitch, stage and in group activities versus an interactive learning programme that can strongly benefit those whose schedules prohibit them from attending regular school (hello elite child athletes and performers) or those for whom school is a place of struggle, bullying, over-rigidity or SEN challenges.

To the school’s credit, it doesn’t attempt to hide its inevitable shortcomings in this area, but addresses them as much as possible. As part of a group of 70 bricks and mortar Inspired schools, the option to create a more ‘hybrid’ model of online learning with real life experiences and interactions becomes much closer.

They are in talks with Sport England to create a more integrated sports curriculum, and the school currently mentor pupils into sports clubs and runs its own exercise classes.

Optional online clubs in the afternoons (Art,Science, Chess, Mandarin and Latin and, in development, Arabic) offer the chance to expand interests and friendship groups beyond the classroom, and until COVID put the brakes on things, there was an annual meet-up weekend, where pupils and teachers could connect in the real world, plus proms, parties and even a live theatre performance and streamed Christmas plays.

HOW IT WORKS

Up to GCSE the children are given four hours of tuition a day, usually in the morning. Registration is taken, children are expected to be ready for their lesson and parents have their own portal so that they can make sure their kids are complying!

Children must turn on their cameras, unless there is a compelling reason (for example, anxiety) why they shouldn’t. This is a new initiative brought in by new executive head Ashley Harrold (or whom more below) who rightly sees it as an important step in creating community and friendships.

The first lesson in a subject is almost collegiate, an informal lecture held with 100 to 300 children and two teachers – one to talk, the other to answer any online questions fired off from the kids if they don’t quite understand what’s being taught.

The second class is smaller, 15-19 children (and they are always in the same group so they get to know their classmates) and run by a single teacher, this structure is simply known as ‘Lead’ and ‘Follow’ lessons. But don’t think that the kids can quietly play Minecraft while the class happen around them. What is fascinating is the extent of the technology used to monitor and engage.

Teachers can see in real time the interaction of students – there’s a traffic light warning system to show second-by-second engagement, and the teachers can then respond to those ‘zoning out’ by checking they understand or asking them questions. Using Adobe Connect, kids can put their virtual hands up to answer questions, and also ask the teacher to speed up (imagine saying that in a school class!) or slow down. Private messaging for help is common, and the kids are encouraged to message each other to engage or question as necessary. Any lessons that are missed can be accessed separately as they’re all recorded.

A Level students have less lesson time – an average of 13 hours of live teaching a week for three A levels in a class of maximum 15 pupils with a greater emphasis on home study.

ACADEMICS

With more than 3000 pupils, 26% of them from overseas (passable English being the only prerequisite to learning at this non-selective school), 140 teachers and 32000 live lessons a year, King’s InterHigh has had plenty of practice at refining its offering of 15 core GSCEs, 21 A levels and 23 AS levels. There is talk of introducing BTECs (if they survive the government cull) and even the IB.

Given that King’s InterHigh is accessible to all, bar those with severe learning difficulties, the results are highly credible. In 2021 44% of students taking GSCE received 7-9 grades, and 43% of those taking A Levels gained A*-A. This is considerably higher than the results in 2019 when for GSCES 29% of kids gained grades 9-7, and for A levels 20% gained A/A*, though the caveat to this is that last year’s results were of course self-graded and there’s been some inevitable inflation across the board with schools.

King’s InterHigh focuses on core subjects for GSCEs, but it’s worth noting that for additional fees kids can also access the likes of computer games development and film studies.

THE HEAD

Ashley Harrold is new in the hot seat from Autumn Term 21 as Executive Head (overseeing four departmental heads for Primary, Middle, GSCEs and A levels), taking over from university academic Dr. Sara de Freitas. Harrold’s big calling card is his experience as a head – six years at the helm of Blatchington Mill School in Hove, Sussex, a mixed comprehensive school of 1600 kids with diverse talents and needs which clearly chimes with King’s InterHigh’s broad cohort.

Harrold is a winning character, full of energy, humour and warmth – vital attributes for a school that is now actively trying to move beyond the confines of virtual education to create community, converse better with parents and ultimately nail a more hybrid model of modern education.

Having already switched on the school cameras to create a better sense of community and sense of fun between the children as well as with their teachers, taking weekly assemblies and creating free time at the end of lessons to ‘meet’ with their friends, his attention is now on the on-boarding process which is always going to be more complicated at King’s InterHigh because the children can join at any time of year with a huge degree of flexibility.

The biggest issue, according to Harrold, is actually helping the parents to feel part of the process – replicating the school gate conversations the rest of us may have, helping them to understand how the portal works, and how to best support their children.

PASTORAL CARE

Given the 3500 children who have swerved mainstream education for a raft of reasons that run from anxiety to bullying, exclusion to SEN to embrace King’s InterHigh’s online education, it’s no surprise that pastoral care (or in King’s InterHigh speak, ‘Health and Wellbeing’) is taken seriously and seems to be ramping up further under Harrold’s headship. There are six full-time pastoral leaders, plus dedicated co-ordinators for each year group, an online health and wellbeing assessment tool, an online safeguarding system, one-to-one counselling where necessary and safeguarding reviews every few months by the Academic Council (led by Dame Erica Pienaar, Chancellor Emeritus of King’s InterHigh).

For the Primary school children, King’s InterHigh is replicating a traditional school structure, with the form teacher as the main point of contact for the children and parent.

Current student, pro surfer Ben Larg

Bullying seems almost non-existent here – I spoke to Robyn and Ben Larg (pictured above), then 13 and 15, both of whom had been victims of bullying at mainstream school, who talked happily of their friends at King’s Interhigh (including those from the Cayman Islands, Sri Lanka and Hawaii – a useful network for future summer holidays) and were thriving. And there is an active knowledge of children and their personal issues – for example, children who find ‘joining in’ a total nightmare are not forced to interact publicly.

One-to-one personalised pastoral care is the goal, though this is currently just in the planning stages.

ISI REPORT

The school is not yet registered with the ISI.

WORD ON THE GROUND

Positive. One parent I talked to felt the school had really understood and ‘got a handle’ on her kids and loved the fact that she was much more a part of their education with regular end of term reports and a fully operational parent portal. King’s InterHigh is not without its issues – some busy, less tech-savvy parents hadn’t realised when their children weren’t filing homework though this is an area the school has now tightened. Children shouldn’t expect King’s InterHigh to be an easy ride– there’s a lot of homework, up to two hours a day.

FEES

If you’re used to paying private school fees, it’s time to start smiling. King’s InterHigh charges £4500 max per year though, that said, you can tack on £350 for each assured GSCE subject and £525 for each GSCE over and above the 5 core subjects. Four A levels cost £5750 per year. Exam entries are also paid for by parents – from £170 up to £300 for each subject. There are 10 scholarships a year granted to high achieving students and some means-tested bursaries

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Children who aren’t thriving at mainstream school or whose circumstances mean they can’t attend regularly.

Not for: This kind of learning approach is dependent on parents working from home or guardians being around in loco parentis. The lack of regular physical interaction between children, and inevitable screen time will be an immediate ‘no’ for some.

Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Check out the website here – you can see some demo lessons and get your own feel for this online approach to learning.

https://bit.ly/3agO0nn

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