Home educators can start GCSE courses at any age. Some begin quite young and take just one or two at a time. Others wait until they are 16 and then enrol at a college to take GCSE subjects appropriate to their future careers. Some study for them at home, and some don’t do any GCSEs at all. 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 they have already achieved twenty to forty percent of the grade. However home educated students sometimes find it harder to manage coursework. This is because an independent person has to mark it. For this reason, some choose the IGCSE (International GCSE) exams which rely entirely on exams. This suits some students, but not others.
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 the Wiki page about exams for home educators.
It is important that a child takes GCSEs because he or she wants to. Perhaps this is 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 without the relevant GCSE, and some vocational courses or careers do not require paper qualifications. There is little point putting a home educated child under pressure to take exams unless it is their own decision.
Ways of doing GCSEs in home education
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. They 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 they may charge high rates to younger students, if they admit them at all. Some colleges will not admit younger students, particularly if they are popular and likely to be over-subscribed.
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. This involves 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 part time with a flexi-schooling option, if the school allows this. 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 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. This is even if they have had no formal teaching prior to this age.
General help for GCSEs
For general help in most GCSE topics, look at the BBC Education: GCSE help. You may also find some help at the TopMarks site. Select age 15-16 and the subject that interest you to find a list of useful resources.
If you want to see in past papers, you can find a few online, and may be able to buy some at bookshops. For instance, you can find past papers with sample answers for maths at the GCSE maths past papers site. You may need to order others directly from the relevant exam board. Make sure that you check specific requirements for your year and board.
If you are unable to find a local school or college willing to take private candidates, there is a new service available, ‘The Exam House‘, which enables private candidates to take both GCSEs and A-levels. Fees and other information are published on the site.
If you would like to use a paid agency for one or more GCSE or A-level options, you can find some organisations on the 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. The styles and resources supplied vary, and may not be suitable for your child.