How can schools offer high-quality online education?

The online education services sector for children in England has grown rapidly in recent years – how can schools offering make sure they are keeping up with this growth whilst maintaining high-quality education standards?

Full-time online education is only suitable for a small number of pupils and, even then, is usually delivered in the short-term until the pupil can return to face-to-face attendance. In some circumstances, online learning may be the best option – for example:

• if there are closures or restrictions on attendance across the whole school due to things like due to adverse weather conditions or highs level of staff absence;
• if the pupil is recovering from a short-term infectious illness;
• if the pupil is preparing for, or recovering from, an operation or injury;
• in exceptional cases, if the pupil is affected by a special educational need or disability, or a mental health issue.

Schools are likely to already have remote education plans in place as a result of their work during the COVID-19 pandemic but, according to new data from the Schools Infection Survey, over 40% of parents of primary school students, and 38% of parents of secondary school students, felt their child found remote learning ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’.

To help improve the experience of online learners schools need to ensure they are regularly reviewing their existing plans to make sure they are adaptable to the individual needs and circumstances of pupils learning online and their families. In addition, schools are responsible for making sure that:

• work provided during periods of remote education is high quality, ambitious and covers an appropriate range of subjects;
• remote work is equivalent in length to the core teaching time the pupil would receive in school;
• they are considering the impact of the pupil’s age, health, home environment and learning needs when setting work.
• pupils who don’t have access to online or digital remote education are supported to overcome these barriers; this might involve distributing school-owned devices such as laptops or tablets, or providing printed resources.

The online education accreditation scheme

To reassure pupils, parents and local authorities of the quality of the online education offered by your school, the DfE is establishing an online education accreditation scheme. The scheme will incentivise schools offering online education to meet high standards of education and safeguarding arrangements by awarding them an accreditation based on how well the school meets a set off new Online Education Standards. The scheme consists of two elements:

• the establishment of non-statutory standards for online education provision;
• inspection of providers against those standards by Ofsted, acting as the quality assurance body appointed by the department.

The scheme will be launched in two phases:

• Phase one: providers will have time to familiarise themselves with the guidance on how the scheme works and on meeting the standards.
• Phase two: this phase will see applications for the scheme open – expected in early 2023.

All inspection reports will be published by Ofsted and accredited providers will appear on the Get information about schools register of schools and colleges in England.

Schools will pay a fee for the suitability checks and accreditation visits. Further details on the application process and fee structure for the scheme will be released in due course. The scheme will be open to schools that:

• teach online permanently only;
• provide a full curriculum or represent a child’s main or only source of education;
• have at least one full-time pupil of compulsory school age on roll based in England (irrespective of the number of learners based overseas);
• have a physical presence in England, registered with Companies House or the Charity Commission.

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