From long-term absence to top GCSE grades – Lilia’s story

The start of secondary school should be an exciting time, but for Lilia from Cambridgeshire, Year 7 was fraught with difficulty from the start.
Now, following three years with us at Academy21, Lilia has started Sixth Form this year armed with excitement, stellar GCSE grades, and the confidence to return to the classroom.
The challenge

Throughout Year 7, Lilia was in and out of hospital, missing a lot of school due to her health issues. In her own words, she had “already missed so much” of her education by Year 8, but the gap only widened that year. After spending the entirety of Year 8 out of schooling and missing out on crucial academic building blocks, the prospect of returning felt overwhelming.

“It was getting harder and harder to come back into a classroom environment.” – Lilia

The strategy

By the time Lilia reached Year 9, she found it “so difficult with anxiety to go [into school] in person” that she and her family began looking into other education options. That’s when they found Academy21.

Academy21 is the UK’s leading online alternative provision, supporting thousands of pupils each year. With experienced teachers, live lessons, and support for wellbeing, Academy21 brings students with complex needs a pathway to strong educational outcomes.

Working together with Lilia, her family, and her school, Soham College, Academy21 set up and implemented a long-term provision plan — one that would allow her to gradually catch up, rebuild her studies in a comfortable environment, regain her confidence, and get back on track to achieve the GCSEs she would need to start Sixth Form in person.

Breaking down the strategy: Flexible support

Academy21 provision is designed to meet a wide range of needs for schools and local authorities, from 6th day provision requirements to longer-term support, as in the case of Lilia.

Our provision also flexes up and down as needed, without wait times or additional adjustment fees. For Lilia, Academy21 worked to create a timetable that would gradually expand over time, easing her back into education while ensuring she’d still be on track to succeed in her GCSEs. Starting with a handful of subjects and taking her History GCSE in one year, she then went on to finish with seven very strong qualifications.

“I particularly appreciated starting with fewer subjects to begin with which eased any former feelings of being overwhelmed, there I could build up on my subjects as I gained confidence.”– Lilia

Breaking down the strategy: High-quality, comfortable learning

Sadly, anxiety is becoming an increasingly prevalent reason behind school absences. According to Action for Children, one in six children are likely to face a difficulty with their mental health — a 50% rise over the last three years. The rate of “persistently absent” pupils, meanwhile, has doubled since pre-pandemic figures according to UK government research.

Academy21 offers the ideal environment for anxious students like Lilia to rebuild their academic confidence. For students who only feel comfortable learning in their own home, our small online classes eliminate triggers like crowded hallways, noisy cafeterias, and playground taunts.

“The small classes at Academy21 are brilliant, and Lilia was able to get a lot of support from her teachers in lessons and with the Friday tutorials which she found very helpful.”– Coralie and Nigel, Lilia’s parents

All the while, Academy21’s provision brings students the quality teaching they need to achieve strong outcomes in their learning. Students follow a 38-week academic calendar with four 40-minute classes per subject per week — plus the option of additional consolidation courses on Fridays. The combination of live lessons and a vast library of on-demand resources helps students make great progress week-on-week as they work towards exams and target grades.

Our GCSEs are available as two-year courses for in-depth development (which suited Lilia’s circumstances), or as one-year courses for accelerated study, with new pupils accepted at any point in the year.

Underpinning Academy21 learning are our highly qualified, subject specialist teachers. Academy21 teachers have extensive experience in mainstream, SEN, and online education, including in delivering alternative provision for disengaged or anxious learners.

Alongside their expertise, our teachers also offer a sense of warmth and care that’s crucial for re-engaging students with their education. “Never had I felt pressured or undermined by my teachers, which aided me to enjoy learning,” Lilia says of her experience.

“We felt the teachers really got to know Lilia as an individual and she was able to talk to them confidently in return.” – Coralie and Nigel, Lilia’s parents

Breaking down the strategy: A strong partnership

Throughout Lilia’s journey, her school remained closely involved via a dedicated support guide. This collaboration was crucial to creating the ideal learning plan for Lilia’s circumstances.

“I had a teacher assistant I could speak to, and we would check up every couple of weeks just to make sure everything was going how I wanted it to.”– Lilia

At Academy21, we work closely with schools and local authorities to deliver the best possible outcomes for each individual student, keeping everyone aligned with proactive communication, and round-the-clock access to reporting and monitoring. With our online alternative provision, students can stay on roll and feel like part of the community as they work towards reintegration.

“The school itself has been supportive… She is still on roll with the local school, so they have been a big part of it. They have been very supportive, and there has been really, really good communication between them, us and Academy21.”– Coralie, Lilia’s mum

Breaking down the strategy: Practical subjects online

Lilia’s mother admitted she had wondered how her daughter would tackle hands-on GCSEs like sciences remotely — “but this was taught exceptionally well,” she tells us.

Key Stage 4 students learning with Academy21 have the option of GCSE Combined (Double Award) Science or separate triple science GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, as well as WJEC Entry Level in Science for students with significant learning gaps.

Lilia, who chose to study all three sciences, was able to achieve high grades of 8, 8, and 7 in each qualification, despite missing most of her foundational secondary school science education.

Breaking down the strategy: Successful reintegration

Ultimately, for many students, the goal is to see them reintegrate into mainstream education. Through a combination of strong academic focus and support for wellbeing, all in a stable learning environment, Academy21 is able to guide students who’ve been out of education on a path back to the physical classroom and towards successful futures. For other

“During Lilia’s three years with Academy21, we saw her progress beyond expectations academically and grow in confidence,” say Lilia’s parents. Now, we are delighted to say that Lilia has transitioned back to in-person learning in time for her Sixth Form years.

The outcome

“We are very grateful to Academy21 for their excellent organisation, teaching, and support. Lilia has achieved excellent GCSE results and is now studying full time at Sixth Form college, in person. We would highly recommend Academy21 to anyone seeking alternative education for their children.” – Coralie and Nigel, Lilia’s parents

Lilia left Academy21 armed with wonderful GCSE results: five 8s and two 7s. After regaining her enjoyment for learning, she is now excited to be studying A Levels in English Language and Literature, History, and Biology at her top-choice Sixth Form college in Cambridge.

From the time she enrolled with Academy21 in Year 9, Lilia says she recalls her “nervous, unsure state having been out of education for a year.” However, she went on to say, “within a short time frame, I felt both the environment in the online classes and the workload kept me engaged and feeling significantly less under pressure than before; I think this is why I resonated so well with online schooling.

In the future, Lilia plans to study history at university and dreams of bringing together her subject knowledge to become a historical author. “I shall forever be grateful for my teachers’ dedication and motivation,” she tells us.

“I needed a place where I could concentrate in lessons, not feel intimidated by classmates, and teachers that I could communicate with – all of which I received with Academy21… I feel I have the confidence to go [to school] in person now.”– Lilia

Key takeaways
  • Academy21 provides a customised alternative online provision experience tailored to each school and student’s needs.
  • Small, interactive classes allow students to rebuild their learning without anxiety triggers, while ongoing wellbeing support gives them the tools to manage stress.
  • Dedicated Academy21 teachers support pupil’s academic and emotional needs to build educational success and the confidence to reintegrate.
  • Our partnership approach ensures seamless collaboration between schools and local authorities as well as students and parents.
  • Academy21 supports over 1,000 pupils each year to achieve strong outcomes and regrow their enthusiasm for learning, just like Lilia.