Transitioning from in-school GCSEs to online A Levels

The world is changing – with the pandemic acting as a catalyst for online work and study, schools across the globe are now turning to the internet to deliver A Level education through exciting new technologies. Students who would like to move away from mainstream school after their GCSEs now have more options than ever, and with so much choice available, it’s important to know the differences between the alternative types of online education, as well as what to expect when transitioning to A Levels online in a virtual school.

The difference between a virtual school and online courses

A Levels can be studied online through an ever-growing list of online Sixth Forms, colleges and businesses, so before you decide on where to study, it pays to find out what you are getting for your money. If an online A Level is being offered at a very low cost, it probably means that it involves a fully independent learning format, where a student works their way through pre-defined modules in their own time and at their own pace. It is likely that low cost online A Levels won’t include live classrooms, or much (if any) direct communication with teachers.

On the opposite end of the spectrum to online courses, virtual schools provide the same learning format as brick-and-mortar schools, but everything is taught online. In a virtual school, you can expect to have a lesson timetable, access to an online learning platform, and you will be taught in real-time, virtual classrooms by subject specialists as well as benefitting from pastoral support that you are unlikely to find with online courses. With endless possibilities for learning resources and student to teacher communication,  the quality of education at a virtual school can match, or even surpass, traditional schools.

Choosing the best school for your online A Levels

Carefully picking the right place to study your A Levels can have a tremendous impact on your grades. The right virtual school can help you unlock your full potential and set you on a path of success for your next steps in life.

Every student will have their own interests and aspirations, as well as topics that just come easily to them. For this reason, a good online Sixth Form, college or school will not want to limit their students in any way, and instead will try to provide a broad and diverse mix of A Level subjects to choose from.

Without ongoing support and guidance, it is easy for students to lose their way or become overwhelmed. It is completely normal for students to need help sometimes, and asking questions is a trait of an inquisitive and intelligent mind. To get the most out of your online education you should look for a supportive learning environment, where students get frequent and direct access to teachers in lessons to discuss tricky topics or point out areas for improvement.

Traditional brick-and-mortar schools in the UK must provide things like career advice and pastoral support, but unfortunately, all online businesses offering A Levels do not have the same obligations. A good virtual school will also offer broader support for their students around topics such as career advice, university applications, general wellbeing and even the simple things like arranging their exams.

Picking your A Level subjects

Picking A Levels is a pretty big decision – perhaps the biggest decision a student has had to make so far in their studies. Your choice of A Level subjects will have a considerable influence on your options for university, and possibly your career opportunities too.

From our experience, there are three main things to consider when picking your online A Level subjects:

Subjects you are familiar with

If you have studied particular subjects at GCSE, or you have strong experience in a certain subject from extra-curricular activities, it will make it much easier to study at A Level. There are some subject choices that should be avoided if you have no previous experience – for example, picking up a language such as French at A Levels would be challenging if you do not have prior experience in communicating in French.

Subjects you want to do

At this stage in life, when you are picking which A Level subjects to study, you should also be thinking about your future career. What do you want to do in life? Does it involve computers, science or being creative? Your aspirations in life are important, so why not pick subjects that you would enjoy, or that will help you get a step closer to your dream job. Often the subjects you enjoy the most are the ones you will succeed in too.

Subjects you are naturally good at

Arguably one of the more important considerations you need to make (if you want to have a better chance at achieving high grades) is which subjects you naturally excel in. Some students may feel they have strong analytical skills, or deep-rooted interests in technology, science or the arts. Your natural ability in a subject could be a great indication for what you might be good at later in life when developing your career.

Familiarise yourself with your new school

Now that you have picked your subjects, signed up to a virtual school and are eagerly awaiting to get started, you should take the time to familiarise yourself with your new learning environment. It can be daunting to show up on the first day of online learning, not knowing where to go or what to do, so we highly recommend enrolling with plenty of time before the new academic year, completing your induction, and familiarising yourself with the learning platform. Take some time out to explore its features, find your timetable, and information on how you access lessons. You may want to make sure you have everything you need to participate in lessons by testing out your microphone and webcam in some test calls with friends. If you have any concerns, or are struggling to find your way around, don’t be scared to ask for help.

A little preparation ahead of time can go a long way in settling your nerves, allowing you to focus on enjoying your first days and weeks at your new school and making some new friends along the way.

Relax, settle in and don’t be shy!

It’s normal for students to feel a little unsettled in their first days of taking A Levels online. After all, it’s an important step, and everything is going to feel a bit different to the schooling you are accustomed to. Reach out to other students in your classes, get involved with social activities or join the virtual common room to make yourself feel more at home. Just remember that you are not alone – there will be other students going through exactly the same things as you. If you talk to them and lean on the support of the full school community, maybe you will help them feel a little more settled too.

Talk to your teachers and school staff

It is important to remember that if you are struggling or need advice and support at any point during or after your transition to online A Levels, you always have the option to reach out to your pastoral tutor. Our pastoral staff at the school are there if you ever need to talk about things like careers, how to book your exams for the end of the year, or if you need some advice to help you feel more at home. Teachers can be contacted privately during lessons, allowing you to ask questions directly, or request additional guidance for a particular topic too.

With great flexibility, comes great opportunities

Studying your A Levels online at a virtual school has many benefits, but one of the most noticeable for students is the feeling of freedom from having shorter days and the flexibility to study from anywhere with an internet connection. Some students use this flexibility to pursue hobbies or participate in sports; others may wish to get a part time job and make a bit of money while they study.

Students who study online will experience an entirely new level of independence. Although progress is still tracked by teachers, and parents can log in at any time, it is still important to take accountability for your own progression. Fortunately for those who study online, if ever you miss a lesson, you can easily catch back up by viewing the recording. If you are having difficulty in a particular subject, you can use the resource library to study up, or directly ask a teacher for further information.

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