Online schools are growing in popularity among children who say mainstream school is not for them. Now, the government is asking online providers to apply for accreditation, which means they will be inspected by the schools watchdog Ofsted.
By Nick Martin, People and politics correspondent @NickMartinSKY
Florrie hated school so much it made it her ill. She would cry in her bedroom every morning and plead with her mum not to take her.
“Going to school was like a massive weight on my shoulders,” says Florrie.
“School was chaos. Hundreds of kids running around corridors pushing and shoving. It was a literal hellhole and I hated it.”
Florrie’s mum Philippa, a former deputy headteacher, says life became unbearable.
“I would walk into her bedroom and she’d be hiding in the cupboard,” Philippa says.
“It was an extreme level of unhappiness that encroached on every aspect of Florrie’s life.”
Florrie was one of the 1.7 million children persistently absent from school in England.
She began to take more and more time off school, sometimes absent for weeks at a time and missing huge amounts of her education.
Philippa made a huge decision. She removed Florrie from school altogether.
“It felt like a huge leap of faith taking her out of school and doing something different,” she says.
Instead of going to school in the morning, 15-year-old Florrie makes her way to the family’s home office at the bottom of the garden, opens up her laptop and logs on just in time for her first class of the day.
Florrie is now part of a £6,000-a-year online school and her mum says she is set to achieve nine GCSEs next year.
“She is excelling and has 100% attendance after a year,” says Philippa.
“She is mentally well, happy, enthusiastic about school and learning invaluable life skills.”
Florrie loves it, saying: “It is like that huge weight has disappeared.”
Education secretary swears in rant over school concrete crisis
All the schools we know are affected by concrete safety fears
Online schools are growing in popularity among children who say mainstream school is not for them.
This new way of learning could represent one of the biggest shake-ups of education for generations.
Because the government is asking online providers to apply for accreditation, which means they will be inspected by the schools watchdog Ofsted.
Such a move could be seen as legitimising this type of education.
The Department for Education says there are an estimated 25 online education providers in England and so far 13 have applied for accreditation, with inspections starting soon.
Absence in schools is now at crisis point. This is Teddy’s story
The ‘ghost children’ crisis explained
Urgent national crisis: Number of children missing school soars
Hugh Viney is the founder of one of them – a school that boasts a roll of 500 pupils, including Florrie.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, he said the online school’s GCSE results were significantly higher than the national average.
But he added: “We don’t care about results, we care about happiness.”
He welcomes the government’s move to inspect online providers, but he wants more.
Mr Viney wants the money that schools get per pupil to be able to be spent on his online school if that pupil opts out of mainstream education.
“Councils are already spending tens of thousands on private tutoring for children who are missing school,” he says.
“Why can’t they spend £6,000 a year on a child getting a full schooling experience?
“We need to innovate. There are 1.7m children missing huge amounts of school. Ten per cent of teachers are leaving the teaching profession. We’ve got to come up with ways to solve these issues and we’re saying we’re part of that solution.”
Ministers say there is no system currently available that would allow pupil funding to be transferred to an online provider.
A Department for Education spokesperson told Sky News: “We know face-to-face education is the best way for children to learn – but this isn’t always possible and high-quality online education can be a practical option to cater for a child’s specific needs.
“All education, whether it is online or in person, should meet the highest possible standards and our Online Education Accreditation Scheme will give greater confidence to parents, carers and pupils accessing education through this route.”