An independent school in central London has completed the first term of its new hybrid school that offers pupils the chance to learn at home most of the week.
Portland Place Online, an extension of Portland Place School, sees pupils aged 10–16 spend four days learning at home using iPads. One day is spent in the main school to take part in lessons such as drama, PE, music, science and design technology.
The school has cut its fees by more than half, from £21,500 a year for full-time pupils to £8,622 a year for hybrid school pupils.
The idea came after receiving positive feedback from parents about the online learning experience during lockdown.
David Bradbury, headmaster at Portland Place School, told IE: “Over the summer we thought, maybe we could offer this alongside the main day school. There may well be people who are still shielding and there may be people who have simply found they prefer to work this way. From that thought developed the idea that it may also make independent education accessible for more families who want it but can’t normally afford London day school fees.”
The first pupils – of which there are currently 11 – started in September, with a couple having transferred from state schools. Online lessons are taught by existing staff and each lesson is taught to either home learners or on-site pupils, instead of trying to mix the two simultaneously.
On the success of the first term, Bradbury said he is “very pleased” and that students have enjoyed it, however he admitted it is still “a work in progress” with areas to refine as they learn more about operating in this way.
One of the issues the school wants to iron out for next year is the amount of screen time each student has a week.
“Because we created this on top of an existing school timetable, the two had to fit together,” explained Bradbury. “What we found this year is it’s a little bit uneven across the week. There are a couple of days in the week at the moment where it’s heavier than I would like and a couple of days where it seems very light; we do want to even that out next year when we plan the timetable alongside the main school.”
Bradbury said the initial challenges of starting an online school were working out what they could offer and how wide a timetable they could offer, but after that it was “relatively straight forward”. This, he explained, was due to having iPads already and teachers having learned online skills earlier in the year due to the lockdown.
Planning the online school timetable alongside the main school’s timetable will be the next big challenge, Bradbury said, followed by working out what resources are needed to potentially scale up in the future. There will also be discussions about working across the education group, Alpha Plus, to facilitate something wider.
Opening up independent education
Bradbury spoke about the emergence of more online schools and how they could be the answer to opening up private schools to a wider range of people.
“Certainly, one of the things in my mind was, is it a way of opening up independent education to more families? I think that’s definitely a possibility,” said Bradbury.
“We were all forced into [remote learning] for four months and not many people would have chosen it, I don’t think, beforehand. But having experienced it now, there are families who think, well it worked well for my child so maybe this is a better option.”
He also said online schools remove geographic restrictions. “We have students in the hybrid school who are further away than normal because they’ll do a long commute for, say, an hour and 15 minutes each way, once a week, in a way that they wouldn’t do five days a week. It’s extended the range of families who can join us.”
Feedback from others working in education has been positive so far and Bradbury sees it as a model that could expand.
“It’s been a very exciting thing to do. And virtually everybody who has anything to do with education that I’ve spoken to has said, that’s a really good idea, that could well be with the way education goes. It is going to be interesting to see how this develops but I think there’s a lot to merit it. I think it’s a model that could grow.”
Find out more about Portland Place Online