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Exclusive: Schools consider 'virtual' A levels that don't need classroom teachers

Pearson to launch virtual Spanish A-level course in September – but union leader warns that 'highly inflated claims' about online learning 'have not come to reality'

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Pearson to launch virtual Spanish A-level course in September – but union leader warns that 'highly inflated claims' about online learning 'have not come to reality'

.Schools all over the country have shown interest in online A-level courses that can be delivered without a teacher in the classroom, Tes can reveal.

The education company Pearson is launching a “virtual” Spanish A level later this year, and is already thinking about expanding the courses to a range of other subjects including French, maths and physics.

Pearson has a well-established “virtual schools” business in the US, Connections Education, which currently teaches 65,000 primary and secondary-aged students who are studying full-time online while at home.

Sharon Hague, Pearson’s senior vice-president for schools, told Tes that the company was interested in bringing virtual courses to the UK to help schools “manage their time and budgets” and maintain “the breadth of their curriculum”.

The company said it had received interest in the courses – which are supervised by teaching assistants but do not require a teacher to be present in the classroom – “from schools, MATs and sixth form colleges all over the country – coastal regions, London, rural towns”.

Pearson will be piloting an online A-level Spanish course from this September, and the company said it had seen “strong interest from schools in being able to deliver a wide variety of virtual courses to their students, including French, maths, physics, psychology and sociology”.

It added: “We will look to expand our course offering to include a selection of these in the near future.”

'Guided learning resources'

For A-level Spanish, the virtual course will take the form of five hours of learning a week like a traditional A level.

One hour will be spent in a small-group online lesson, delivered by a Pearson teacher who has qualified teacher status and is approved by the disclosure and barring service. For the other four hours, the students will work though “guided interactive and engaging learning resources”.

In addition to the small-group lesson, students will have a weekly one-to-one online session with the teacher, and they will also be able to contact them throughout the school day via email or chat messages if they have a question.

However, the teacher will not be physically present in the classroom. Pearson said the student would sit the lessons “in a quiet room at their school on an internet-connected computer for all five hours per week”, with a TA “in the room to ensure that they are on-task”.

Ms Hague said the courses would help schools to maintain a well-rounded curriculum.

“It wouldn’t be replacing the school or the teacher but it would provide the school with course content, structure and some of the delivery with a view to enabling schools to maintain the breadth of their curriculum,” she told Tes.

However, Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of National Education Union, said that while integrating online elements into lessons could prove to be “useful”, she remained sceptical about virtual courses.

"The evidence over the last 10 years is that the highly inflated claims about online learning have not come to reality," she told Tes. 

"What’s been consistently found is that the actual standards achieved, and the progress of people just involved in only online learning, is very slow and very low."

Sharon Hague's interview appears in the 9 February edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article hereTo subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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