One of the things that the new Children, Schools and Families Bill should do is to increase the number of home educated children who pass five GCSEs, including mathematics and English, at grades A* -C. Those framing the new legislation have come to the conclusion that not enough home educated children are sitting GCSEs. There are no definite figures available, but most parents would probably agree that fewer home educated children sit GCSEs than do those at school. There are a number of reasons why this should be so.
I have been prompted to reflect on this by a thread on one of the home education lists which is bemoaning the lack of exam centres which will accept private candidates. The perception is that there are fewer such centres now than there have been in recent years. Of course not all the parents of home educated children want their children to take GCSEs. Sometimes this is because they are too idle to put in the necessary work, others have ideological objections to the whole business. In both cases, this is to the detriment of their children. Over 20% of employers, according to a recent survey, said that they would not even consider a job applicant who lacked five GCSEs. Are there other reasons why parents do not enter their children for GCSEs?
For one thing, there is the cost. Typically, parents must pay around £140 per subject for their children to sit these examinations. Ten GCSEs, not uncommon for school educated children, would thus set the parent back about one and a half thousand pounds. This is scandalous, considering that we already pay council tax for the schools! The suspicion voiced in the recent post on one of the lists was that it has become more difficult to find an exam centre because people are trying to assist the government by making life harder for home educating parents. This is absurd; the real reason lies in the behaviour of the home educating parents themselves.
Consider the situation from the point of a school or college. The sitting of GCSEs is a smooth and carefree operation. everybody concerned knows the ropes, teachers know how to put children forward for the various subjects, they know which will take foundation and which will sit higher. The whole process is like a production line in a factory. You are dealing with fifty children for this subject, two hundred for that, all the players know their parts. Enter stage left, a home educating parent. She does not know the ropes at all. She does not know which board she wants, whether Edexcel or Cambridge, she has no idea if her child will sit foundation or higher tier. Worse still, her child has to have special arrangements; extra time, a room to himself, a scribe. This one parent can easily take up more time than two hundred school pupils! There is nothing sinister about the reluctance of a school to put themselves through all this extra aggravation. Why would they do it?
Never the less some, often independent schools, have done so in the past. Some of them do it once or twice and then decide that the game isn't worth the candle. Because in addition to being very labour intensive, some home educating parents can be very.......how can we put this politely? Shall we say eccentric and difficult to satisfy? Of course, many parents of schooled children are probably no less awkward, but the beauty of the school system is that you don't have to deal with them when it comes to exams. You just drop them a brief note telling them which exams their little darling will be sitting and that is all there is to it.
I know of one independent school which has stopped taking private candidates this year because of problems with home educating parents. One mother made allegations that the exam conditions were unsuitable and accused the school of condoning cheating. Another could not get precisely the conditions which she felt that her child's condition required and the upshot was that both mothers complained to the exam board. This was a great embarrassment to the school and since the two children had only been sitting three GCSEs between them, they decided that the trouble was greater than the benefit of allowing private candidates. Because from the school's point of view, there is very little advantage in taking private candidates. Most home educating parents only enter their children for one or two subjects at a time anyway. It is not a very profitable enterprise, considered strictly from a business point of view.
It is to be hoped that once the Children, Schools and Families Bill is actually on the statute book, the situation will improve for home educated children who take examinations. As I said above, the parents of such children pay council tax and really should be entitled to the same services as children who are at school. I would not be at all surprised if there were fewer schools and colleges this year who were taking private candidates, but as I say, this is less to do with a conspiracy and more to do with the nature of the parents themselves.