More Scottish families opting for virtual school for lower priced private education

Hugh Viney (CEO of Minerva’s Virtual Academy)

ONLINE school could offer a viable alternative for families who are dissatisfied with Scotland’s response to the loss of learning during the pandemic, an education expert has suggested.

Hugh Viney, CEO of award winning online school Minerva’s Virtual Academy was speaking in response to new research which indicated that the number of Scottish pupils being schooled at home has almost trebled, from only 679 in 2017/18 to 1,924 in 2021/22.

In most cases, parents opt to remove their children from traditional schools then conduct lessons themselves in their homes.

But a new trend has seen parents pay to sign up their youngsters at ‘virtual academies’, with lessons provided by online teachers. The academies can be far cheaper than traditional private schools. 

With the pandemic forcing the closure of schools across Scotland to prevent the spread of coronavirus, families were faced with compulsory home learning. With the quality of the online provisions delivered by mainstream schools often falling short of the levels expected by parents, students across the country are now negotiating the impacts of months of disrupted learning. 

Some pupils enjoyed online classes and in response, businessman Hugh Viney

founded Minerva’s Virtual Academy in 2020. It has 250 students on the roll, 20 from Scotland, each paying £6,950 a year. 

Mr Viney said: “A significant minority of children loved learning from home during the pandemic. These families came to us for schooling in 2020 and never looked back.”

The school operates like a university, with students expected to teach themselves material in advance using digital resources then attend online lessons to consolidate their knowledge, a practice known as ‘flipped learning’. 

Students attend only two to three hours of teacher-led lessons each day, with the rest of their time filled with self-guided learning.

After-school clubs begin at 3pm while once a week pupils discuss their progress with a personal mentor and parents are sent regular reports. Children also practise mindfulness during a weekly well- being session. Twice a term, pupils are invited on a school trip. This term, 65 students toured  the Royal Courts of Justice in London before visiting an ‘escape room’. 

Mr Viney admitted this style of education is ‘not for every child’, adding: “We are here for the kids who are self-motivated.

“Parents need to take responsibility for their child’s education if they are sending them to our online school. However, children can learn at their own pace and rewatch lessons if they are struggling, while bright pupils can race ahead.

“For us the benefits of an online education are simple. Mainstream school isn’t the right fit for every child and that has been the driving force behind the launch of Minerva. For many children, whether they suffer from anxiety or mental health issues, have additional needs or for pupils who are extremely gifted academically, a more tailored, individual and flexible approach is what they need to be able to thrive. That’s what we feel virtual learning can offer.”

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