Thursday, 31 December 2009

Exam centres and the home educating parent

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.

23 comments:

  1. Well, I certainly don't think it is a conspiracy; (I am sure many independent schools have no idea what is going on with the home ed world anyway)-I do know that some home ed families can be difficult to deal with (and the special conditions for some children with disablities etc don't help....although I would like to point out that my dd had such extras herself!). However one of the issues is the increasing complexity of exams; many schools have enough trouble with their own plus the fact that many smaller schools don't have a dedicated exams officer but the entires are done by someone who is already over stretched.

    This is the situation at the independent school our local HE group currently uses, and where I do the entries. The exam officer is also the Bursar and is frantically busy. Although I provide a spreadsheet for all the data for each exam, it is tedious work entering them on the exam board online sysytem, and certainly Edexcel's doesn't always work and is prone to errors. The school does a lot of modular exams and to get the best marks candidates resit early modules unless they have an A* grade - so they have lots of bits of resits going on each term as well. The whole system is continually changing - for example one of the maths modules for GCSE which has 2x30 mins consecutive sections A and B are always sat on the same day one after the other - excpt for this June when without any notice we have spotted in the timetable that the 2 sections are on different days - which means another whole exam session for 30 mins exams. No wonder the schools are stretched .. and no wonder they can't face any extra work even for the less troublesome families!

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  2. Oh heck I am so out of the loop, what is foundation and higher tier ?

    Toto, these are not 'O' levels anymore.

    I may have to put Son of Thor into the freezer to keep him little until I can catch up, he went from 0-nearly ten in a blink of an eye so I'll need to up to speed before he becomes a teenager at the speed of light.

    Is there a website somewhere that explains how the new system works, in simple terms, for those still frazzled from Xmas ?

    If we opt for IGCSEs do we avoid all the kerfuffle and problems experienced when going to GCSEs or is there an overlap in issues that you can experience ?

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  3. O levels, Sarah? I think that they went around twenty years ago in the wake of Kenneth Baker's reforms! If your kid is able to do well in a GCSE or IGCSE, you enter him for the Higher tier. This means that he can get from C to A*. Do this if you have no doubt of his ability to get at least a C. If, on the other hand, you think that the best he could manage was a C, then do Foundation Tier. This means that the highest the kid can get is C, but if he falls below that he will at least get something. I'm not sure that I would call this a new system, you know. Tell me, how long have you been out of the country? Have a look on Edecel's website to begin with and then see if it makes sense. I'm happy for you to email me privately if that would help.

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  4. Sarah,
    In one sense it's like returning to CSE's and O Levels, in that some exams require you opt for foundation (CSE equiv) or Higher (O Level type standard.)

    Some IGCSE have these and some don't.

    I wouldn't bother looking into it if your child is under 10. It's BOUND to have changed again by the time he get's to 13.

    The HEexamsandalternatives yahoo group is the best one for info though I can't remember the exact address right now and am on a different computer to usual.

    Mrs Anon

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  5. Simon,

    I don't think it's either the cost or 'idleness' which puts people off entering their children for exams.

    By the way, I'd love to know how many actual HEers you really KNOW, since my experience of them is so utterly different to yours. :-) Perhaps it's just your sister's experience again which is colouring your opinions?

    The tiny proportion of HE'ers we KNOW personally who have not 'done exams' have not done them because they have believed them to be irrelevant. Whether they are correct in believing this is another matter.

    I've chosen to go down the traditional route of preparing ds for IGCSE's because it seems more straightforward to me than other routes into employment or further education.

    However, since none of the non-exam HE'd adults (over 16) we know are actually unemployed, it doesn't seem to have handicapped them. Perhaps it would be true to say that they might have higher paying jobs now had they 'done exams' but I have to say they are happy and healthy and serving their communities as volunteers as well as being employed. So, not exactly failures in life.

    The vast majority of those HE'ers whose kids have got to age 15 or so are taking some exams though (usually a minimum of 5, just so as to get into the next stage of education.)

    Mrs Anon,
    who sometimes feels she lives on a quite different planet to Simon, the HE landscape is so different to the one he describes.

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  6. Sarah, International O Levels still exist so you may be OK! http://www.cie.org.uk/qualifications/academic/middlesec/olevel/subjects. No idea if it's still possible to take them if you live in the UK. International GCSEs (IGCSE) are often preferred by HEers because they do not include course work.

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  7. Me again.... as to planets (re Simon v Mrs Anon-) actually I think that you are both right....the home ed world is a incredibly diverse and it is easy to believe that ones own small corner of it is typical of the rest.

    The bit of the world I inhabit has both those that do exams and those that don't. On the whole the ones who didn't do exams have gone onto vocational courses post 16, whilst the ones who did have done A levels or similar. I do know several unemployed home educated 16-19 year olds too; it would be fair to say that those who are currently unemployed either tried to gain employment post 16 (with GCSES but no higher qualifications) or did vocational courses post 16 and dropped out/or qualified but with a specialist qualification in which they couldn't find work. But then I do know some unemployed adults who went to school too.... the only difference being that perhaps they are more willing to find any temporary work to fill in, whilst the home educated ones are either less money orientated or more willing to be baled out by the bank of mum and dad.

    What is definately true about the home educators where I live is that many (especially single parents on benefits) are deterred by the costs of exams. Whatever the eventual outcome of Badman, I do hope easier and cheaper exam access is possible for all.

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  8. and my dd did do one O level - as did Mrs. Anon's I believe, so they are still around although the Edexcel version is being incoporated into IGCSE from next year.

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  9. "Tell me, how long have you been out of the country?"

    I left when I was 21, 21 years ago. Egads, it's been half my life and I only was only going to go "forever", but I didn't really think it would be.

    Thanks to all who offered details, it really does sound like O levels/CSEs.

    I'm taking the advice and going to the sites suggested while speaking to myself in a calming voice about how it will all change again soon so not not to panic at what I am reading.

    I just thought I could sign him up for those distance courses you see advertised and that the entry into an exam would be a foregone conclusion, I didn't realize I would have to fly over and start begging people to let him in their exam room BEFORE I flew us both over (knowing my luck, several times) to take the actual exams. Everything looks so simple in a brochure that is trying to sell you something.

    He'll have to take at least five at 16 and at least 3 at 18 so I don't fall too foul when I refuse to enter him for the maturit√° which is a bloody awful way to examine kids (plus about as useful as a wet paper bag in the international sense, plus it means you've been locked into the Italian system which leaves you hung out to dry in terms of your ability to study and learn unless you want to continue parrot fashion learning right up to PHD level) and given that it will be at the end of the road for us I'm prepared to engage them in battle at that point waving what is offially considered "equavilant diplomas" in their faces.

    I have forgotten my point.

    I'm pretty sure I had one. Possibly.

    So I am going to stop talking now.

    This is age isn't it ? I spend half the day wandering around the house not just looking for something but looking for something that will remind me what I am looking for.

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  10. Well Mrs. Anon, I do know quite a few home educating parents, but they tend to be scattered through North and East London and the parts of Essex which are on the fringes of London. The sort of parent who I get on with are the type who are very structrued and enter their children for loads of IGCSEs. Actually, I am regarded as a bit of a slacker by some people because my daughter only took eight IGCSEs! One boys known to us took thriteen. I said that some parents do not want their children to take exams because they are too idle or opposed on ideological grounds. I certainly know parents who simply don't want to put in the work, although they do not say that in so many words. There are also plenty of children whose parents give them the choice whether or not they sit examinations. I assume that these parents are opposed on ideological grounds to coercing their kids into sitting a bunch of exams against their will. There are many children like that, including those of high profile members of Education Otherwise. I don't think that it is unusual. I also know a number of parents who simply cannot afford to pay for their children to take GCSEs. These are, as Julie says, single mothers on benefits.

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  11. Idle Parents?

    >>>>>I certainly know parents who simply don't want to put in the work, although they do not say that in so many words.<<<<<

    Ah, so you somehow intuited their motivations for ignoring GCSE's because you are a very sensitive soul and pick up on these things so easily? LOL! I don't know why I'm laughing, really.

    You've just explained that you got on best with the HEers most like yourself, highly structured exam-taking types. Nothing wrong with that. My ds is taking 8 of them too, and we tend to hang out more with the other kids and parents who are doing likewise. But given that, how on earth do you feel so qualified to express an opinion about the apparently *secret* motives of parents you don't know terrible well?

    >>>>>>>.I assume that these parents are opposed on ideological grounds to coercing their kids into sitting a bunch of exams against their will. <<<<<<<<<<<

    You assert that there are many children in that position, yet in my area, most parents who started off believing that, end up with their kids sittiing exams by the time they get to 14/15/16. And, of the ones who steadfastly refuse to consider them on idealogical grounds, some find their kids travelling to college a year later to make up lost ground. OR the child finds employment, sans bits of paper, in fields which really interest them, such as a place where they've been a volunteer.

    It all works out in the end. No one on the dole, no one in young offender institutions (another of your past assertions.)

    I have AE friends who would consider ME to be an idle parent for going the structured/GCSE route. AE it seems to me, is not for wimps.

    And I am a world class wimp.

    Mrs Anon

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  12. >>>>>>>>>>>On the whole the ones who didn't do exams have gone onto vocational courses post 16, whilst the ones who did have done A levels or similar.<<<<<<<<<<<

    Julie, don't you think that the kids who went the vocational route would most probably have ended up doing that anyway, if they'd been to school and had GCSE courses crammed down their throats?

    Or worse, perhaps they'd have been so turned off education that they'd have been the ones who became incorrigible truants/ on the dole/ in young offender institutions.

    Mrs Anon

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  13. Ah Mrs. Anon, I do not "intuit" the motives of those whom I refer to as idle . Nor is it true that I don't know them terribly well. I am talking about friends who have taken their children from school, a couple of whom did so because of my example! Because I always behaved as though there was nothing much to it, I don't tend to go on about difficulties, they somehow got the idea that their kids would just get on with the work themselves. This did not happen and two of the children wound up back at school. It's not a question of being intuitive, I'm sure that you also read between the lines when friends tell you things? I can assure you without the least doubt, that some parents do not get their kids to study for GCSEs because it is simply a lot of hard work and they do not want rows with their children. Whether you call it, as I did, idleness or whether you say that they avoid conflict, makes no difference.

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  14. Mrs Anon said "Julie, don't you think that the kids who went the vocational route would most probably have ended up doing that anyway, if they'd been to school and had GCSE courses crammed down their throats?"

    Hmm, possibly, although since they would have found it difficult/impossible to do A levels without GCSES down here anyway, they didn't really have a choice, so can't be exact! Without wishing to sound like a stuck record, the home ed teens I come across (there are now around 50 attending group "lessons") are incredibly diverse..... and of course the fact that they are attending classes leading to GCSE makes them self selecting (although not all will take the exams); however it is probably also true that 50% of them intended not taking exams/or returning to school for exams before they found us.. so we are artifically altering the home ed community anyway....

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  15. Julie,

    The picture which you describe is not really artificial or unusual any more. It seems to be happening everywhere in my area (3 home counties). HE'ers organising themselves into groups and paying for a tutor or in one case, an enterprising Montessori School opening its doors to older pupils on a subject by subject basis.

    None of my friends, whose kids are now 14-18, intended doing GCSE's when they started off HE'ing. In fact, most were quite scathing about them, or had daft ideas about being able to walz into unis with no bits of paper at all.

    But gradually, things have been changing, especially with the FE's (no 'night school' any more), and most of us have ended up combining in various ways to take exam courses sooner or later.

    The only ones who haven't have either got jobs related to the voluntary work they were doing or done vocational courses at FE starting at entry level or level one. My personal feeling is that those kids would have left school at the earliest opportunity (if they'd not already been truanting) and gone into that sort of course anyway.

    What I'm trying to say is that I don't see any 'idle' parents round here. I see creative, enterprising, lateral-thinking, responsible HE parents. And the ones who are opposed to exams for various reasons seem to manage to find way around them using non-traditional paths to employment.

    Mrs Anon

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  16. "The picture which you describe is not really artificial or unusual any more. It seems to be happening everywhere in my area (3 home counties)."

    It's not even that new. Groups of HE friends or more organised groups were engaging tutors when I started HEing 15 years ago.

    "None of my friends, whose kids are now 14-18, intended doing GCSE's when they started off HE'ing. In fact, most were quite scathing about them, or had daft ideas about being able to walz into unis with no bits of paper at all."

    They may not have been such daft ideas when they started HE, but as you say, things have changed since then. When I started HEing it was easy to take a range of GCSEs from scratch at our local college in the evenings. I know because my partner did just this, gaining GCSEs in subjects they had not previously studied. The push to 'encourage' many more people into higher education recently has put immense pressure on places, especially as most unis are underfunded. This must have affected their sifting and interview processes significantly.

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