Monday 6th September 1999 was what they call a quiet news day – no single event dominated the day’s newspapers in the UK. Tony Blair had been Prime Minister for two years and Mambo No 5 was top of the UK charts! For NSWLearning however, it was a hugely important day as we opened our virtual doors for the first time and began our online learning adventure.
Known then as NorthStarUK, we had been planning this launch since 1997. Originally the plan had been for a millennial launch in 2000. It sounded good back then, the idea of a new and exciting educational format, for secondary-aged students, for a new millennium!
For twenty years Steve Richards, our founding Educational Director, had been advocating the need for a new type of formal educational institution to replace schooling. Now, this was to be a reality and the launch date of September 2000 had been set! However, once word ‘got out’ that we were working on this project, pressure grew, particularly from families overseas, to consider launching early. In the end, after a lot of discussions, we began on Monday 6th September 1999 providing support for a small number of families who simply couldn’t wait another year! Looking back, that launch was incredibly demanding – in truth, we had to work so hard to ensure that our curriculum was ready and our tutors understood their roles. However, that early launch and hard work set the tone for NSWLearning and the values that we hold to twenty years later.
Some of the cutting-edge qualities NSWLearning has developed over the years –
We are committed to providing support for home educating families. As home educators of four (now ‘grown-up’ children) Steve and Lyn Richards offer support that is informed by experience, not simply by the twenty years of running NSWLearning but also by the years of home educating their own children.
A focus on young people
Our curriculum is created with young people, not adults, in mind – in practice, this means that our materials are written in language that young people will understand. We also provide our students with a large number of assignments to submit so that in this important time of assimilating knowledge they receive frequent feedback from their tutors.
Whilst we can’t produce individualised curriculum for each student, we do aim to be as flexible as possible with enrolments and scheduling. Tutors work with each student as individual learners, working alongside them as they progress through each year.
An eagerness to encourage radical change within schools
NSWLearning was established partly because we did not believe that much of conventional schooling was working that well. If anything, the last twenty years have reinforced this view. We continue to encourage senior staff in schools to think ‘outside the box’ in terms of what contemporary schooling should look like.
Twenty years of working in online learning has provided us with a wealth of experience. We were the first fully online secondary education provider in the UK; others may have been providing huge lever-arch files with adult-orientated curriculum and methods but we were the first to deliberately develop an approach to learning entirely focused on young people.
Our curriculum has changed over the years, both in response to exam board requirements and also as a result of an understanding of what really works best for young people. Some of our original tutors still work with us – they are amongst the most experienced online educators of young people in the country. In terms of both curriculum development and tutoring, twenty years experience has enabled us to acquire a mastery of the art of online learning.
In truth, we love doing what we do – it has been such a privilege to be working with so many incredible families and educators around the world and to have been a part of their remarkable stories.