GCSE courses for home educators can be started at any age. Some students start quite young and take just one or two at a time; others wait until they are 16 and then might enrol at a college to take GCSE subjects appropriate to their future careers without any cost. This kind of flexibility allows full research and study into each subject rather than simply focussing on getting lots of exams.Note that each exam board may have specific requirements. General GCSE books or ‘revision guides’ give an overview of what is likely to be required, but you will need to see past papers, and probably use books required by your chosen board.
GCSEs taken in schools usually include a significant amount of graded ‘coursework’. This consists of projects, essays or other work done during the year which counts towards the final grade in the exam. This is ideal for students who find exams stressful: it can be encouraging to know that twenty to forty percent of the grade is already achieved. However it can be more difficult for home educated students to manage coursework, because it must be marked by an independent person. The IGCSE (International GCSE) exams have no graded coursework, relying entirely on exams. This suits some students, but not others. You can read a lot more about IGCSEs, including information about several specific courses, at the Eddis Tutorial site.
If you are interested in discussing GCSEs, A-levels and alternatives for home educators with others who are on the same path, there’s an active yahoogroup you can join, HE Exams. This has helpful advice for anyone looking for a centre to take exams of any kind, or wanting to know about the different types of GCSE that can be taken by home educators. There is general information, compiled by people from this list and elsewhere, on a new Wiki page about exams for home educators.
Reasons for doing GCSEs – or not
It is important that GCSEs are taken because the child wants to, perhaps because it will be useful for future education or career options. But it is worthwhile doing as much research as you can: some A-level courses can be taken directly without the relevant GCSE, and some vocational courses or careers do not require paper qualifications. Even if graded coursework is included, there is little point putting a home educated child under pressure unless it is their own decision.
There are three main ways in which home educated students have taken GCSEs: by correspondence courses where a tutor is usually assigned to give advice and mark work; by enrolling at a local college or adult education class; or at home doing their own research, choosing appropriate books and buying past exam papers. The latter is only really appropriate for exam-only IGCSEs, unless you can find a suitable independent person qualified to grade coursework.
The advantage of using a correspondence course or enrolling at a college is that a tutor is available who may be able to help more than a parent, and can grade work. The disadvantage is usually the cost, if your child is under 16. Most colleges offer free or inexpensive courses to those over 16 but will often charge high rates to younger students, if they admit them at all (see below for some which do). Some colleges will not admit younger students at all, particularly if they are popular and likely to be over-subscribed with older students.
Another advantage of a college is that they will often arrange the exam room; with a correspondence course you usually have to organise that yourself, registering your child as an external candidate at a local school or college, at additional cost.
It may be possible to register a child in a school, perhaps part time with a flexi-schooling option, if the school allows this. The books and tuition will then be provided and you will probably not have to pay an exam fee. If your child is approaching 14 and wants to take several GCSEs, you may even want to consider a couple of years in a local school if you can find one which you like. Some home educated children have followed this option and obtained excellent results, even if they have had no formal teaching prior to this age.
For general help in most GCSE topics, look at the BBC Education: GCSE help. There is also a wide variety of help at the TopMarks site. Select age 15-16 and the subject that interest you to find a list of useful resources.
If you are interested in past papers, a few are available online, some can be bought at bookshops, but others may need to be ordered directly from the relevant exam board. In any case you will need to check specific requirements for your year and board. Past papers with sample answers for maths can be found at the GCSE maths past papers site.
If you are interested in using a paid agency for one or more GCSE or A-level options, there are several organisations listed on my GCSE correspondence course page. These offer some distance learning or tuition possibilities for those who prefer outside help with GCSEs. Please read their terms and conditions carefully before making any financial commitment, since the styles and resources supplied vary, and may not be suitable for your child.