wey ecademy – England’s first free online state school

http://www.weyecademy.com/

For ages 10+ up to A Level standard, the Wey Ecademy requires each registered student to be logged onto the virtual classroom for 4-5 hours each week day.

Students work towards state school qualifications such as the English Baccalaureate and A Levels, but IGCSE qualifications are also offered as well. IGCSEs are currently only offered in fee-paying private schools, but will be available to all students of Wey Academy.

Right now it is in the process of obtaining government funding, but if everything goes ahead, the school will open it’s doors to the first batch of students in September 2015. It will be totally free for English students (not enrolled in a state school) to attend. It is a homeschooling option. Albeit, completely free of charge.

I think this is GREAT news! So excited.

Currently we already are doing about 4 hours of structured home education every day anyway. Plus my kids love online learning. They have been using Mark Kistler live drawing lessons, and they love the interactivity of online live lessons with a teacher and other students.

Wey Ecademy work in partnership with Interhigh, an existing online high school which is privately-funded. In fact, the study model that Wey Academy proposes is quite similar to Interhigh’s current model. We were aware of Interhigh from a few years back when I was considering Interhigh for my eldest. It achieved decent IGCSE results in the past, considering the fact that Interhigh also takes in students who have been excluded from schools for behavioural problems – funded by the taxpayer, but these types of students are allocated a separate virtual classroom with separate teachers away from the fee-paying students, so these kids have no contact with the fee-paying kids at all. The study model suits our kids, but the only negative is the cost. Interhigh charges £760 per term, per child, and this is not something sustainable for us over the long term with 3 children.

Also, my eldest is 12 this year and will soon be looking at obtaining her IGCSEs. This is something I have planned for her anyway, even if this free online state school never comes to fruit. We would be looking at spending about £2k on preparing her to take 5 or 6 IGCSEs as a private candidate, with the exams spread out over the next few years. I was looking at entering her for 2 IGCSE exams a year, each year, starting from 2016 and then by 2018, when she’d be 16 years old, she would have 5 or 6 IGCSE qualifications under her belt.

IGCSEs are not the same as the GCSEs taken in state schools. IGCSEs stand for “International GCSEs”, and were created for an international audience. The questions asked in IGCSE exams are not UK-based questions, so they are more applicable to international students. In the UK, IGCSEs were never available as an option for state school students. Only private school students and private candidates such as home educators are able to take them.

IGCSEs have historically differed from GCSEs in the way they are graded. IGCSE grades are always based on the results obtained in one final exam sitting, whereas state school GCSE grades are awarded based on a combination of ongoing coursework and the final exam.

Now that rules have very recently changed, GCSEs now have become similar to IGCSEs in the sense that grades can no longer depend on coursework. It will just be very dependant on the student’s performance on one final exam taken at the end of the course. As you can tell, this type of course suits those who do well in exams. It is good for home educators too, as that means we only have to pay for the exam sitting, and we don’t have to pay for the cost of ongoing coursework assessment, which usually is impossible to source anyway, as there was never a system in place for private candidates to get coursework assessed.

But what this means for home educators too is that we will no longer have to be limited to taking IGCSEs anymore, as GCSEs have now gone the way of IGCSEs which are extremely exam dependant.

There are some really good private IGCSE tutors around. They were home educating parents themselves and their IGCSE course fees are all very reasonable. But if the Wey Academy is going ahead, then we can save the money we’d have spent on those tutors. In fact, I emailed Wey Ecademy about exams, and they’ve said that all exam fees would be paid for by them so we won’t have to pay a cent.

The only caveat with Wey Academy is that they want students to stick to a timetable (about 4 to 5 hours from morning to afternoon, to be spent daily logging on to the virtual classrooms), so students cannot say, go out to attend other home education activities during the day if the times clash with the school timetable. Most home education activities and meetups I’ve attended do fall within those times when Wey Ecademy expects students to be online, and part of the reason why people choose to home educate is so they can have that flexibility to fit their studying times with their lives and other interests. I know many home educators are used to being flexible about arrangements, so this attendance issue is a major issue with quite a lot of them.

Another issue, albeit a rather minor one to me, is that the Academy would be expecting students to take up a certain number of IGCSE subjects, and English and Maths would possibly be compulsory subjects that every student has to take no matter what. I don’t foresee the English and Maths to be a major problem for us, as my kids are fine doing them. I’m just a bit concerned that if the Academy wants students to take a minimum of say, 7 IGCSE subjects, it might not be good for some kids.

I feel strongly that kids shouldn’t be pushed to do too many subjects. I would rather kids have a string of 5 As rather than 7 Bs or 3 As and 4 Bs and Cs. Of course some kids are just really really brilliant academically and have no trouble obtaining 11 As in one sitting – I went to an academically-selective school in Singapore and one of my schoolmates did just that. But it wasn’t the same for me. Not only was I rebellious at the time (so refused to put effort in my studies), I feel that even if I had studied hard, I’d never be an 11-As type of kid. Back in the day, we did O Levels, not IGCSEs. I remember dropping my 8th subject because the coursework was huge and I had lesser time for other subjects. I ended up taking 7 subjects and scoring 4 A1s, 1 B3, 1 B4 and 1 C5. I wished then, as I wish now, that I was not forced to do 7 subjects. If I did 6 subjects only, I am sure I would have gotten As in all of them. I look at that C and I cringe because I always knew it was one of my weaker subjects and I always wished I could drop it. I hope my kids will be able to take as many IGCSEs as they can handle and can score well in every one of them. If that means 5 or 6, so be it. But if Wey Ecademy won’t facilitate that, we will do it on our own.

I feel the same for my children as well. I don’t want them to be made to do 7 subjects. 6 is fine if they can get As in all of them. Of course if my younger children grow up to become academically

I also emailed Wey Ecademy to ask what sort of IGCSE subjects do they offer, and they have said :

‘iGCSE’s that will be offered are:  Mathematics, English Language/Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Geography, Latin, Art and Design, Business Studies and Computer Studies. We will offer French, Spanish, German and Italian as modern foreign languages with students being able to study two languages.  Added to this we will offer ground-breaking studies such as the ‘MOOC’ computing GCSE offered by Cambridge University Press designed specifically for 100% on-line study.’

As an aside, I also asked them if it was possible for kids who are “advanced” to study the year level they are capable of doing, rather than the year level based on their age. They have said they offer a “‘stage-not-age’ arrangement for students so they will learn with the group most suited to their academic needs.”. I’m still not sure what this means in practice so will update this blog as necessary, if I get a further explanation from them.

Now I’m really pleased they have Latin and Art in their subjects because those two subjects are subjects my daughter would have liked to take at IGCSE level but will cost us a fortune to prepare her for. Art & Design is the most expensive pursuit to be taken as a private candidate, because the cost of hiring an invigilator and an art room for the final exam (which is a 10 hour exam spread over 2 days) can be expensive. Plus the cost of art materials, and the cost of private art tuition (which has always been expensive, even though art as a career has never been the most lucrative amongst all occupations, for most). We found out it will cost us approximately £1k+ over the length of the next 2 or 3 years to prepare her for taking her Art & Design IGCSE, if we go with private Art tuition to prepare her for it, plus the cost of taking the exam (hiring the room and invigilator for 2 days) will cost £200 if we cannot find a cheaper local venue to do this.

Latin is also expensive. We started on Latin since last year because we were kind of following a Classical education. We weren’t following a Classical Education fully, but I thought the studying of Latin was a good idea because it will help improve my daughter’s grammar (which it did) as well as make it easy for her to pick up any Romance languages like French, Spanish or Italian, if she had to.  But since she has been doing so well in it, we think it would be a natural progression for her to then go on to do the IGCSE in Latin as well. But it will cost us nearly £800 to prepare her for it, as the private Latin tuition from the University of Cambridge School Classics Project costs that much.

I’m kind of excited at the prospect of Wey Ecademy offering IGCSEs in Art & Design, and Latin, all for free. That means we will save nearly £2k in private tuition if we went with Wey Ecademy!

My daughter is strongest in Art and languages. She has done well in Latin so far, which is supposedly a difficult language to learn. She normally hates doing modern languages though, because she is shy and hates speaking. But she does well in them and I think it’s only sensible to pick GCSE subjects that you find easier to handle, than to force yourself to do subjects you already find hard, because it’s nicer to have a string of good A or B GCSE results on your certificates, than to have Cs and Ds.

In addition, my daughter wanted to do Music GCSE. Unfortunately Music GCSE is assessed continuously with coursework, so is almost impossible for home educators to access. Even Wey Ecademy has no plans to offer it. But luckily the ABRSM Grade 5 exams (in any instrument of your choice) are considered a sort of equivalent to a Music GCSE. My daughter would be Grade 5 or more by the time she applies to University, so she would be fine skipping the Music GCSE and just working on her ABRSM Piano and Theory exams instead. She enjoys playing the piano anyway. So that’s a plus 🙂

So in total, the 5 IGCSE subjects she’s decided to work towards for now are : English, English Literature, Art, Higher Maths and Art. I suppose if Wey Ecademy goes ahead, we wouldn’t be too constrained by cost and she would be free to do more IGCSEs in other subjects, if she wants. But to be fair, with her career goals in Art & Design, she would be looking at going to University to do Art degrees, and Art degree entry requirements usually do not care that much about academic achievement. They usually ask you have the basics – i.e. English and Maths GCSEs in Grades C or above, and the most important thing you need in order to gain entry to Art degrees is your art portfolio. Getting 12 As in your GCSEs will not help your Art degree application any further. It is your Art portfolio that truly counts!

So we’ll see how it goes.

We might consider enrolling in Wey Ecademy only when my kids are 14, so that they can enjoy more years of being unconstrained by school timetables. Somehow the timetable thing, I know, will be a big reason why we will not be very quick to jump into this.

It might be that we may be happy to go it our own with just private tuition and enrolling into exams as private candidates. I suspect it will all come down to cost for us. If money is scarce, everything can change.

The good thing is that Wey Academy has told me they are willing to consider alternative school times to accommodate the varied needs of home educators, so it will remain to be seen if they do come through for those of us who want more freedom.

It’ll be alright in the end, I know.

I’m happy that we now have a plan – a path to work towards.

 

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