First state-funded virtual school in UK soon? Implications
The Sunday Times reported on 1 July 2012 that the Secretary of State for Education (England) Michael Gove "is expected to sign off on a further 80-100 schools in the next 10 days under the Tory policy to let parents, teachers, charities and other groups set up state schools. They will add to the 92 free schools so far approved of which 24 are already open." One at least is expected to be a virtual school.
The long article (not available publicly on the web) later states that: "Among those planned is a "virtual school" in Staffordshire, based on an American model, where pupils would mostly study online from home". So far so good, and long overdue for the UK in the minds of several UK experts. The UK, or at least England and Wales, has had no state-funded virtual schools, despite some thriving private non-profit virtual schools and several commercial providers of online teaching to GCSE and A levels.
However, in line with traditional fears and misunderstandings of online learning common in Europe, the article then states: "This will be sensitive for Gove, as it requires far fewer staff than conventional schools and could be a pointer to the future as use of technology grows". While one cannot rule this out, there is a wide range of virtual schooling models across North America and Europe and many of them replicate the main aspects of the traditional classroom with various types of online interaction. The teacher is still firmly at the centre of the system, maybe not always the "sage on the stage" but certainly the "guide on the stage". Old-fashioned distance learning it is not. Teacherless open educational resources it is not.
Fortunately for our readers, maybe now including some newspaper reporters, local councillors, teachers and anxious parents, a large amount of material relevant to virtual schools in the UK and the wider Europe has just been made available by our VISCED project. The materials include clear descriptions of how the virtual schools actually work. We think that this will be reassuring to many enquirers. See http://www.virtualschoolsandcolleges.info/visced-colloquium-for-virtual-schools
Paul Bacsich, VISCED Project Manager