Sophia

Sophia High School Review

Sophia High School as Reviewed in Which School Advisor

We are delighted to share our recent review from Which School Advisor, one of the leading independent school review sites and go-to guide for parents in the UAE, Qatar and wider Middle East.

We were also featured in their Online Primary Schools Guide, as the only online school to provide a British education as low as Year 1.

Sophia High School is a relatively new online school located in the UK but educating students from 18 different countries including the UAE.

The story so far...

Sophia High School UK claims to be the only British online school, based in the United Kingdom for home-schooled and home educated students, to offer online schooling for children from as young as Year 1 (5+) through to Year 9 (14+). Sophia High School is part of Sophia Technologies Ltd, a UK based EdTech company founded in 2018.

Sophia offers at home education and schooling online in its Online Primary School at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2, and Online Secondary School UK / Online High School at Key Stage 3 providing a British international online school experience.

Sophia believes that having international accreditation is crucial for any online school, as it gives parents peace of mind that the school has received a stamp of approval from a globally recognised high-quality education service. Sophia is working with both the Department for Education on their Online Education Provider Accreditation Scheme for Online Schools UK and has recently received its Membership Evaluation Visit by the Council of International Schools to whom it has applied for recognition as one of their online schools as a Member School.

Led by Director of Education, David McCarthy and Owner/co-founder & Chief Education Officer, Melissa McBride, who together have over 50 years of independent private school experience as former Headteachers and passionate educators, Sophia offers overseas parents “the opportunity to access high quality online education for their children. We are a global learning community, with over half of our students based in the UK, who are joined by a diverse number of students from all over the world”.

Mrs. McBride, who is responsible for the vision, growth and strategic leadership and partnerships at Sophia, was responsible for founding three outstanding schools in the UK, Dubai and Qatar. She gained her international experience as Head of Primary at Hartland International School Dubai, prior to joining EduReach Education in the UAE, where she supported the opening of Kings College, Doha.

Prior to launching Sophia High School, Mrs. Mc.Bride joined the Cognita Schools Group, one of the largest international groups which has recently entered the UAE market with the purchase of Horizon English School, Ranches Primary School and The Royal Grammar School Guildford in Dubai.

Holding a Masters Degree in Education from the Institute of Education, University of London, Mrs. McBride is a fully qualified teacher with QTS and a mother of four school aged children.  She is passionate about creating high quality learning opportunities for children and inspiring the next generation of students as they grow from the learners of today to the leaders of tomorrow.

As Director of Education, David McCarthy, holds responsibility for the educational vision and quality of education at Sophia High School and the wider Sophia Technologies Group of services. As the strategic and operational lead for the Education Team, Mr. McCarthy heads up teacher recruitment, curriculum development and academic learning and quality assurance at Sophia High.

Mr. McCarthy leads the Sophia High Team and works alongside families seeking school placement and support. In his long-standing career in education, he has been teacher, Head of Year, Head of House, Head of Department, Director of Studies, Deputy Headmaster and Head of a senior school.

A father to four adult boys, Mr. McCarthy is passionate about the need and importance for schools to put students at the forefront of educational decision making in education. He believes that the most important areas that a school can develop in young people are people skills and personal goals required to be successful in adult life and the necessity to support students in their growth as good, kind human beings.

Mr. McCarthy was Head of ICT at Bishopgate School and Deputy Headteacher and Head of Senior School at Long Close School (a Cognita school), with responsibility for ICT and is evidently the technical force behind the Sophia High School.

Sophia High School is in its second year of operation and inevitably, student numbers are relatively low– a total of 40 of whom approximately half are located in the UK, and the remainder in a range of international locations. The school is a truly global learning community, with students joining each other based in 18 countries in 5 continents from around the world.

Students come from 12 different nationalities of whom just over 55% are UK citizens, whilst Brazilian, Canadian, Croatian, French, Ghanaian and Somali nationals make up just over 30%, followed by Mexican, Polish, Slovak, Sudanese and American nationals make up the balance.

All of online home school lessons are live, interactive, and taught by a team of qualified, experienced teachers. Experienced, professional teachers are based in the UK and conduct real-time, interactive, timetabled lessons online, based on UK morning timings and supported by the Google Classroom digital learning environment. Currently there are two classes for Year 1 and one each for the remaining year groups.

Sophia High is one of the very few for-profit schools and first British online school that Google has partnered with to provide access to the full Google for Education Workspace. The partnership with Google enables Sophia to utilise the leading Google for Education Suite of tools including Google Classroom, JamBoard, Google Meet for Education among other applications. These tools transform how educators and students learn, work and innovate at Sophia High School.

The teaching team is made up of three Senior Leaders, seven teachers and four part-time specialist teachers with no more than 6 children per live lesson and an average of four students per live lesson for the core subjects. For non-core lessons, due to the collaborative hands on nature of these sessions, the maximum is 10 students.

All teachers have at least 5 years of teaching experience in British Schools both in the UK and British international schools overseas. Their average experience is eight years, with 35 years of experience in one senior staff member in the senior phase of the school. All fulltime teachers hold post graduate degrees in education and QTS qualifications. Specialist subject teachers may not have teaching degrees, but have exceptional backgrounds and degrees in their specific areas of expertise.

The school allocates a personal training budget for each staff member in order to foster career development and qualifications. During the first year, each teacher was allocated between £500 – £750 for personal development courses throughout the year. This can be increased for staff who wish to take on further postgraduate study in line with the direction of the school, and also where the school identifies whole school training requirements such as its initial focus on Safeguarding and Curriculum.

Professional Development is a core part of Sophia’s Self Evaluation and School Development planning cycle. Sophia is also a partner with University of Warwick to offer Degree Apprenticeships for the team as part of its commitment to career development for all teachers and wider staff.

What about the Curriculum?

Sophia High offers the UK National Curriculum from Year 1 through to Year 9 and is a curriculum partner with the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) (Year 1-6), and the International Middle Years Curriculum (Year 7-9). Sophia High is the first online school to partner with Fieldwork Education in order to offer the globally recognised IPC and IMYC programmes to its students.

The core subjects include English, Mathematics, Science and French (from Year 2). Through the IPC and IMYC programmes, students are offered Geography, History, International Studies, Music, Art, Design, Computers, and Physical Education, with the goal of developing globally competent learners.

In addition to French which is a specialist taught modern foreign language from year 2 upwards, with year 1 taking part in termly French language carousel activities throughout the year, students also have the options of additional languages including Arabic, Spanish and German. 

In addition to the core curriculum, all students take part in a Wellbeing programme which includes the teaching of PSHE, Wellbeing and Mindfulness lessons weekly.

All students are given the opportunity to take part in Sophia’s ‘Beyond the Curriculum’ learning which sees resident experts in their field offer activities from coding and computers, performing arts to LAMDA, history and science focus workshops and book clubs and a growing list of options. This includes workshops, career talks, performance days and coding camps.

The Beyond the Curriculum programme is designed to identify students’ unique talents and interests and to expose students to previously unidentified areas so that they have the opportunity to develop their passions in areas outside of the core curriculum. The student leadership team is designing its own student led club programme set to launch in January 2022, and following Sophia High’s voice of the student programme, the school has begun to introduce extra-curricular activities during the school term, the first of which are a series of Book Clubs with a focus on Harry Potter.

Students may also join SophiaX Online during school holidays and receive a discounted fee for the courses. Student-led clubs are included as part of the school fees. There is a small fee for visiting experts at the school, where additional costs are incurred. Camps and Extracurricular activities are £100/ approx. AED 500 (5 week/5 hour course).

Whilst Sophia High ends its provision at the end of Key Stage 3, following year 9, the school works to support students with their future schools, university choices etc. through the introduction of careers surveys and workshops during the year. In 2020, Sophia students were offered talks from the fields of palaeontology (Science) and performing arts (creative). This is an area that Sophia will continue to develop and grow as it is an important part of the Department for Education framework, preparing students for the next stage of learning and preparing students for future schools and/or the return to physical class settings.

What about Academic Achievement?

Sophia High uses the PIRA and PUMA (Yrs 1-9) standardised benchmark assessments from Hodder Education. Progress in Understanding Mathematics Assessment (PUMA) and Progress in Reading Assessment (PIRA) accurately measure and predict pupil progress in maths and compare their performance against national averages.

Details of the results for 2020 students at Sophie High School can be found here.

What about support for Students of Determination and those with Gifts and talents?

Whilst Sophia High does not have a specialist additional needs support department, it does have a number of students with additional learning needs that benefit greatly from the Sophia High programme and the online education model of delivery. This includes children with medical issues, English as an Additional Language, ASD spectrum, processing and dyslexics. The main consideration for Sophia is that children will be able to access the full curriculum on offer and benefit from an online education model of delivery using the Google for Education suite of tools for teaching and learning.

Sophia believes in teaching to the stage of individual learners as the programmes of study for the UK National Curriculum are designed, rather than the confines of year groups defined by traditional school settings.

This means that Sophia is able to move children ahead to the next learning phase where they have already exceeded curriculum expectations and show talents in the subject area, or provide the opportunity for children to go back over the core fundamentals of the curriculum in the learning pod below to build confidence and plug any gaps in learning, so that children do not miss essential objectives from the curriculum.

Due to the nature of the online provision in English, students must have a good grasp of the English language (speaking, listening, writing for older students from year 2 upwards).

Additional language support for EAL can be provided to parents to support students when joining Sophia High, this is seen as a short term requirement for identified students. There is an additional fee of £360 (approx AED 1,800) per 10 x 30 minute sessions of English as an Additional Language.

Currently, Sophia has two students identified with SEN, two with Gifts and Talents and two English Language Learners.

The Buzz

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com asked Sophia High School’s team what differentiated it from other online (and regular) schools! 

They told us that their motto is "Crazy Today. Obvious Tomorrow."

"This is what we believe in as we re-imagine a new future for education. Sophia High School’s unique Four Dimensional Learning Model places emphasis and importance on the following:
● Global Citizenship/UN Global Goals
● Mental Wellbeing
● Digital Learning
● Personal Goals

This four dimensional learning is at the heart of everything that is done in the school and is embedded into the curriculum."

If you are a parent, teacher or student at Sophia High School, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our Survey here.

Our View

Sophia High School is the second online school based in the UK able to support students in the UAE that we have reviewed on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.  Although relatively new, the credentials of its owners and senior management are impressive and their direct experience of the UAE is clearly a plus in terms of their understanding of UK curriculum provision in the Emirates.   

Its provision for students as young as age 5 is unique – other online schools commence their offering for students entering Year 2 – and the use of a highly-regarded and recognised technology infrastructure (used by many physical schools for online teaching during the Covid 19 pandemic) means that families can be assured of technology that works.  The flexibility promised that enables students to “move ahead” or “go back to consolidate” their learning  means that an individualised learning in small group “pods” potentially offers a tailored education designed to meet individual requirements.

If you are considering online education, we would certainly suggest reaching out to Sophia High School.

What about the fees?

Fees (by grade/year group) are £7,200/year/ AED 36,000 (subject to exchange rate) for Years 1-6), and £8100/year/AED 40,500 (subject to exchange rate) for Years 7-9). Full details can be found here