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Harrow School Online

Combining Harrow's heritage with leading online tech, Harrow School Online offers co-ed learning for ages 16-18. Social contact and extracurriculars aren't after-thoughts, either.

WHAT? WHERE?

Launched in September 2020, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Harrow School online was a clever business opportunity borne out of COVID. In fact this virtual school, an extension of prestigious Harrow School itself, had been in the planning with Pearson Education for some years. The idea had originally been to target international students aged 16-18 for its A Level and EPQ courses – students come from 16 different countries – but the academic fallout from the pandemic has seen UK nationals lead the charge, with 40% of admissions.

Harrow School Online plays bluntly on the reputation of its namesake, and unlike other online schools or courses that I’ve reviewed, plants its stake firmly in the ground as the place for high achieving, ambitious, self-motivated students with an eye on Russell Group Universities and Oxbridge. Unless your child is set to nail 7-9 or A-A* in seven to eight subjects at GSCE, move along.

HOW IT WORKS

Like ‘normal’ school (whatever that is now), Harrow School Online students log into registration, and per A level take a mixture of 5 online tutorials at their own pace, 2 live lessons to go over the work completed, and can book one-to-one sessions with their teachers whenever they need additional help with a topic. The tech is an iteration of what Pearson Education utilises in the States for 105,000 pupils, and involves what we have now come to expect – interactive chat, breakout rooms, self-assessment tools, polling and embedded multi-media, plus immediate visibility for parents to check on progress, with real time access to their child’s studies.

Maximum class size is capped at 10, though in its infancy it’s currently between 6-8 at the mo, and every fortnight there’s a one-to-one catch up with a House tutor to ensure students stay on track with their learning. Lessons are observed by Head of Department at the main school, so the academic side of things should be pretty well sewn up.

There’s also a Super Curricular syllabus with an ‘Elective’ each term which is designed to explore areas of scholarship beyond the syllabus of their A Level courses and sounds a bit terrifying – subjects on offer include an Introduction to Stockbroking (the only school where children get a qualification that qualifies them at entry level as financial traders); Number Theory; Introduction to Investment; The Chemistry of Art; and Advanced Quantum Mechanics.

THE CORE SUBJECTS

Limited at the moment to two year courses in Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Economics or Spanish and a combined Maths/Further Maths course but there’s talk of expanding the range into the Humanities, Computer Science and English. The plan in time is to run a GSCE programme for 14-16 year olds. There’s also the opportunity to study individual A Level courses on a part time basis.

BEYOND ACADEMICS

Traditional school activities such as weekly assemblies, House meetings and inter-house competitions, and clubs (currently on offer: chess, book club; film club; musical ensemble, debate club, science society and science society). An obvious criticism to fling at an online school is the lack of real-life social interaction. Harrow School Online gives credits to pupils who do things for their local community, who demonstrate their involvement in local clubs and activities (a responsible adult is required to log and evidence!) and who play sport – compulsory for all, even if that doesn’t involve a club but is a solo activity logged online with, for example, Strava. For activities which take place outside of the School community, a responsible adult must be able to complete a report on the pupil’s involvement, and evidence of the activity, normally including photographs or a video, must be submitted.

In the Summer for an extra cost of approximately £3500, students are invited to attend Harrow Summer Camp on the school campus, where they can hang out with their peers in the real world for a couple of weeks.

THE HEAD TEACHER

Heather Rhodes is in the virtual hot seat, having been on staff at the main school previously. It was she who had set up previous summer courses at the school and had spotted the potential for a permanent online school. Smiley and upbeat, she appears acutely aware of the importance to nail the socialisation aspect of Harrow School Online (it’s the area most parents worry about most), though she also knows that ultimately parents will pick her school based on reputation and academic rigour. She’s also out to grow the international cohort so that there’s more of a 50/50 split between UK and other nations to create diversity and global friendship groups.

PASTORAL CARE

I haven’t seen this in action but on paper it sounds robust. The House system encourages a sense of belonging with a House Master or Mistress at its head, supported by a Success Coach (it’s really called that!) and tutors. The House Masters and coaches look after the pupil’s pastoral care, monitoring everything from personal wellbeing to their future plans after school. School Monitors are pupils elected to the school council who are there to speak up if they see something untoward and there is also an easy reporting system. With the school in its infancy with 30 students, this is not an area that has been really put to the test so I will revisit this later in the year when I have more info to hand.

FEES

Less expensive than independent day school fees, full time enrolment is £5,250 per term. For one individual A level it’s £1575 per subject per term, or to study maths with further maths it’s £2100 per term. The fee for the Enrichment Programme is £650 per term. Compared to Harrow School fees (£14200 per term) this virtual school is an absolute steal – and you’ll still have bragging rights.

WORD ON THE GROUND

I talked to students in the UK, Sri Lanka and Romania – a pretty eclectic mix! – and they all said the same thing. They love Harrow School Online, mostly because they felt they’re able to work to the best of their ability in a grown-up, collegiate environment (one to one tutorials, independent learning), but also because of the friendship groups. International schools by definition offer a global, inclusive outlook, and what one of the students called ‘drama’ of bricks and mortar schools (bullying, petty jealousies, bitchiness) doesn’t happen in a school where you can decide who you want to speak to and who you want to avoid every day. Those from overseas found the first few weeks tricky, not knowing the GSCE curriculum on which their A levels would be based, though they praised the teachers for helping as much as possible. Outside school they still catch up with other friends – they laughed when I asked if they felt lonely – but they do admit that if you have a child who loves the rough and tumble of school, mixing with others at breaktimes or joining in lots of school sports teams, this might not be for them.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Highly-motivated, self-starting pupils who like a large degree of autonomy. Those who want a strong academic option but need flexibility (elite athletes number amongst the pupils).

Not for: If your child doesn’t like academic pressure, or enjoy an environment that celebrates ambition and by nature competition, he or she might be better off somewhere else. The understandable lack of physical school sports and orchestras won’t suit some.

Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Make your own mind up and visit the on demand open event, or try their online Open Morning on Sat 26 June 10 – 11am.

Harrow School Online. Tel: 020 3024 4861. admissions@harrowschoolonline.org

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