Friday, 23 October 2009

What are the advantages and disadvantages for home educated children in collecting half a dozen GCSEs?

There are a number of advantages for a teenager in taking GCSEs. Firstly, the possession of a clutch of GCSEs demonstrates to a college, sixth form or potential employer that a teenager has some kind of basic education and can probably read, write and carry out the four basic arithmetical operations. Another advantage is that a child cannot help but pick up some useful information about science, history and English literature while studying these subjects. It provides a good training ground for the self discipline which will be needed if the teenager decides to go on to college or university. Of course, it is still possible to get a college place or job without any formal qualifications, but it is often much harder. Many of the better universities regard GCSEs as almost as important as A levels. It is of course also possible to acquire general knowledge without studying for formal qualifications, but learning is a habit which can be nurtured and encouraged by regular practice. Systematic study can provide just such practice. Humans are often lazy and many of us avoid thinking about difficult problems if at all possible. Academic study presents the student with a constant series of problems and tasks which must be tackled, whether he wishes to or not. Even if the student does not retain much afterwards, the very act of carrying out calculations involving calculus, say, stretches the brain in a way that it might not otherwise experience. It is like muscle training; the more it is done, the stronger and more agile the brain grows. These are just a few of the benefits which might accrue to the child taking a variety of GCSEs as a teenager. There are of course many others, but these should serve to give some idea of why the project is worthwhile.

The only disadvantage which is immediately apparent to me is that it means a considerable expenditure of time and effort on the part of both parent and child.


  1. Certainly we never considered not doing GCSEs, except that I wasn't actually sure whether my daughter could sit formal exams; she has a terrible tendency to cry in times of crisis, and so we did approach the first one (RE which she did in year 9) with some trepidation. Once she had proven that she could sit still and write, we plodded through the rest.
    My logic was that we have no idea what the future holds for her, but exams would more likely to be a help not a hinderance. I do know the arguments that GCSES aren't neccessary, but evidence at colleges around here seem to prove the opposite. Of course it all depends what you want to do... one of her friends who deliberately decided to avoid exams got in this year easily without GCSEs - but it is for photography, where actual skill and artistic flair can't be easily tested anyway. Others have had some struggles; local colleges seems determined to ask for 5 GCSEs for A level courses, at any rate. Although we don't have any idea of what she may do career wise, it is apparent that academic study of some sort was the way ahead for now at least.

    The hassle of taking them is another matter- it is getting easier but we spent most of our time at an exam centre 250 mile N of here!

  2. All the local colleges within a twenty five mile radius require five GCSEs in order to study A levels. There is leaway on things like music, performing arts and photography, where I have known children get places by audition or portfolio. I have not heard of anybody near here getting on to A level course in this way. A number of universities also expect six or eight GCSEs at A* in addition to the three A levels. For reasons such as these, it seems sensible for teenagers to take GCSEs.

  3. I guess it depends which track your children are likely to be on. One of mine did not take formal exams before college as it wasn't appropriate for her or needed for the course she would be taking. I am preparing the other for all possibilities though by helping him through a mixture of 8 IGCSE/GCSE/'O'Levels, 4 last year and 4 this.

    WHAT a pain it has been. I don't mean just the arrangements, but the fact that all his real education had to go on hold while he studied for the exams!

    That doesn't sound right, does it? Yet that is how we both feel.

    When we started HE'ing my dd 14 years ago I had no intention of doing exams with them. I'd known people who took all their exams at college later in life and couldn't imagine that option not being there when mine were older.

    So, I set about giving my kids the best educational opportunities I could in a relaxed, semi-structured way with plenty of informal learning, large amounts of outdoor activities, sport, music and all that good stuff. In short, a great, old fashioned, 'liberal' education with lots of enrichment.

    We had to give almost all that up in order to cram for stupid exams because the stupid FE colleges have given up teaching GCSE's now and 'adult education' classes round here seem to consist solely of feng shui or flower arranging or watercolour painting for the elderly.

    The best laid plans of mice and men...

    Mrs Anon

  4. "We had to give almost all that up in order to cram for stupid exams because the stupid FE colleges have given up teaching GCSE's now and 'adult education' classes round here seem to consist solely of feng shui or flower arranging or watercolour painting for the elderly."

    How true, although I don't think it is actually the colleges fault. In the past there were few course options for school leavers without GCSEs, so colleges offered one year courses in which you could take 6 or so to catch up. Now all the govt funding has gone into vocational courses (NVQs and BTECs and the like) which have different levels for everyone so those without GCSE passes can slot into a lower level course. All this is absolutely fine if you want to study one of those subjects...(eg child care or sports science) but not okay if A levels were your aim. The other thing to consider are the likely clinetele of some of these courses; one of our group wanted to do a beautician course, without GCSEs - she got a place on a level 1 course...but found that the other girls were the very ones that had caused her parents to remove her from school at 13, because of bullying.
    As for evening classes etc - these have had the biggest cutbacks, especially on traditional qualifications, due to drastic funding cuts. Also the age limits vary, here in my local college, adult ed classes are available and free for over 16's, and in fact several of us were able to access them from 14 (although we had to pay). In another college though they are only open to over 19's - I suspect it is down to whether they want to put CRB's and child protection policies in place.

  5. Ah Mrs. Anon, I suspect that we both come from the same era! Like you, when my daughter was small I had in the back of my mind the idea of GCSEs at college, evening classes and so on. When she was eleven, I looked into the whole business casually and almost jumped out of the window with shock when I discovered the true situation. None of the colleges near here do any GCSEs except as resits for sixteen and seventeen year olds. You are right, you can do evening classes in flower arranging, but not GCSE maths. This must be the most stupid thing I ever heard of. As a young man, I had contemporaries who had screwed up at school and simply did their GCEs again at evening classes. Not any more. And just try and get to study for A level maths without already having a grade B at GCSE! The whole situation is absolutely mad. I know exactly what you mean about putting education on hold in order to take the GCSEs; my daughter and I certainly felt like that sometimes.

  6. It's obviously something that varies across the country. Our college and adult education department offer a limited selection of GCSEs that you can study from scratch (they also offer the revision versions). These are their 'from scratch' GCSE courses (most can be taken as part a full day-time education at the college but Biology is only available as an evening class at schools around the county).

    English Lit
    Science & Additional Science
    Media Studies
    General Studies

  7. You are obviously fortunate- there is one college in this part of Hants (in Portsmouth actually) which does theoretically offer a full range of GCSEs (which when you see the GCSE results for Portmsouth city is hardly surprising. However, reality for one of my daughters friends has proven that offering them doesn't mean that actually happen - she took maths and English GCSe at home and then planned to spend this year getting another 6 GCSEs at this college, especially science ones so that she could do A levels the following year. Since September her subjects have changed several times as the classes have been cancelled due to numbers and drop outs, so that her subjects now bear little relation to the subjects she thought she was going to do.

  8. One of mine took several last year. Their main problem was finding spaces on the courses they wanted as they filled up so quickly.

  9. Wow, Sharon! How fortunate for your family!

    Enjoy that situation while you can. It seems to be on the way out in most areas.

    Mrs Anon, feeling very jealous...

  10. Tell me Sharon, are you sure that it is possible for just anybody at all to sign up to the GCSEs that you list? I ask, because a lot of the colleges which do run subjects like that, and they are increasingly rare, apply the same restrictions to entry as they do to A levels. So typically, a teenager trying to get onto the GCSE Psychology would already be expected to have some GCSEs before being allowed on the course. If this is not the case with this college, I don't suppose that you could give me a clue as to the area? Is it in the North of England, Leeds or Sheffield for instance?

  11. Well, as I said, one of my children signed up for several last year without any previous qualifications. I know that the revision courses they also run require GCSEs at something like grades F-D, but all of those listed could be taken from scratch. The English and Maths are easiest to find because they run evening classes at several schools around the county. Another child signed up for evening class English and Maths at the beginning of this year, again with no previous qualifications and was assured that only basic maths and English skills were required, but had a change of plans and enrolled on full time level 2 BTEC course at a local sixth form that also includes English and Maths GCSE (from scratch again - luckily they refunded the evening class fees!). I'd rather not say where we are because it could identify my children.

    It's obviously important to check out local provision early and have an awareness that just reading the on-line information can be misleading in both directions. I know some have thought courses suitable but then discovered that it's a revision course when they go to sign up and the reverse is also true. Depending on supply and demand, it is sometimes possible to get onto a course with less than the required qualifications (though with the numbers staying on these days I think that's less likely than it used to be). It can all be very last minute though, can't it, especially when a place depends on GCSE results received just before enrolments. After taking my child to college enrolment days, teens often seem to be left scrabbling around for *any* course that will accept them. I think it's important to have a back up plan if the course you are planning to sign up for closes or they suddenly decide that qualifications do matter after all (something I've heard happens in some areas).

  12. I think GCSEs are so much the norm for entering further and higher education that it is advisable to research all the options thoroughly before deciding not to follow the conventional course.

    My son hasn't done GCSEs.