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Brave New World

13.07.21

Drawing on Harrow’s esteemed history as a world class education provider, while embracing innovative teaching techniques, Harrow Online is leading by example in the distance learning arena. Julia Millen spoke to Heather Rhodes, Principal of Harrow School Online about nurturing tomorrow’s global talent  

Tell us about the Online Learning ‘Designed for Success’ Programme

This academic programme is fully online, geared to Sixth Form students and based on that of Harrow School. It’s for students from around the world who are focused on achieving top grades in preparation for entrance into the top tier universities.

The concept is simple. Academically, we‘re aiming for the same outcomes as those of Harrow School, but as an online institution, we can capitalise on the advantages of distance learning by offering a much more flexible and individualised education.

The key is to not try and replicate what we do in the classroom. Instead, we teach our students the complete ‘A’ level syllabus with a combination of self-study materials and interactive lessons that they can work through at a time and a pace that suits them. Then, we collect a wealth of data on performance in self-study lessons and include live classes to support learning.

With around ten students per class, there’s a real sense of community and the style of learning is similar to that of a university, where more independent studying is expected; freeing up the teacher’s time for one-to-one appointments with pupils.

How does HO successfully blend traditional and innovation teaching methods?

Our approach to the core curriculum is quite innovative – it relies on flipped learning and a wealth of carefully authored self-study materials in a data rich environment, which is far more flexible than a traditional setting.

We then take elements that are based on Harrow School’s ethos to enhance our programme, for example, our house system, whereby pupils meet twice each week to take part in inter-house competitions and build friendships within the group.

We also focus on character education, which is one of the aspects that traditional, British schools do very well. We teach a skills and mind-set course that covers a range of topics, to enable students to become better independent learners and strive to be well-rounded individuals that contribute positively to their communities.

As such, charitable endeavours are really important to us and all of our students are involved in some form of charity. Harrow School offers a variety of extra-curricular clubs and societies and we have reflected this in our online programme.

What themes and content are covered in the Life-Coaching sessions?

Every student is assigned a success coach, who will support them in planning ahead for their future. The idea is to have someone supporting you with your long-term goals and then setting steps in place to help you work towards them. They’ll work through possible career and university choices, including assisting with the application process.

Focused support throughout the full two years is really important to give students a sense of continuity – echoing a physical school, where they’d have incidental discussions with staff and students about their future goals.

How do you assist international students with managing their studies from their own homes?

The International aspect of our school is one of the aspects I’m most excited about. It’s fantastic having a global community of learners in their own homes, alongside classmates from different continents working in the same way.

There’s an amazing cultural awareness – a global network of friends, and students have set up a ‘study buddy’ scheme to support each other.

This sense of friendship is reflected in the house system, with students spending quality time with one another. In terms of staff support, our house tutors hold fortnightly one-to-one tutorials and talk through the academic aspects of the school.

A notable benefit of online schooling is our data rich environment, enabling us to immediately identify when someone has fallen behind, so we can react quickly to provide additional support.

Are there any new additions to the curriculum in the coming year?

We roll out new courses on a regular basis; we started with STEM subjects and we’re extending that to economics and biology in September. The ‘A’ levels offered are based on student demand; for example, we’ve recently had requests to include a computer science programme, so we’ll look at developing a syllabus.

Launching a new subject is an in-depth process that involves eight authors and takes about a year, as the material for our interactive self-study lessons has the same amount of rigour, review and input as a classroom-based course book would.

I’m also excited about the prospect of a summer school in 2022, which we’ve had to cancel for two years, due to the pandemic. Fortunately, being an online school, the effects of this have been minimal and we’ve held numerous online events in the absence of physical meetings.

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