I have in the past been accused of an obsession with GCSEs and also of ignoring all the other qualifications out there, such as Open University courses. This is quite an interesting point, because my daughter herself almost went along this path. She did a few units of an OU course when she was eight, but in the end it was decided that International GCSEs were a better bet.
There are quite a few things to be said in favour of GCSEs and some things to be said in favour of OU courses. As far as GCSEs go, they are a standard measure of education. I don't want to get into a debate about whether they have been 'dumbed down'. We chose not to do ordinary GCSEs, partly because the coursework was a problem and partly because the IGCSEs are more rigorous and highly regarded; very much like the old GCE. When taken purely as examinations, there is no scope for the sort of cheating which has been endemic in the GCSEs for over twenty years. Everybody understands the yardstick being used for a reasonable education; five GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and mathematics. This is the sort of standard measure which will allow you access to study A levels at a college and which many employers regard as the bare minimum level of education which they require for people applying for jobs. Universities too, often want to see good GCSEs in addition to A levels. Really, they are most useful and apart from those who cannot afford them, I can't imagine why anybody would prefer her child not to have them.
Mind, I don't personally think that five GCSEs at C, is what the government seem to imagine it is; the infallible mark of a teenager who has had a good education. Their lack, after a child has spent eleven years in the educational system certainly tells you something, but unless a child has learning difficulties, it would be hard to see how she could avoid scraping a C at five subjects. This again, gives IGCSEs an edge over the standard GCSE.
Open University courses are another way of gaining qualifications. We saw this year that a child who had gained a certain number of points at the OU was able to get a place at Exeter university to study law. They certainly can be used in this way, although it is rather more difficult than using GCSEs and A levels. The problem is partly that when everybody else is using one measure, it is bound to be a little harder to get them to accept something a little different. Getting into university in this way is not particularly common. Still, not everybody wants to go to university and this is another difficulty. Most employers are not familiar with Open University points as a way of judging the educational attainment of a teenager. How many points on what course works out as five GCSEs at A*-C? What is the equivalent to a couple of A levels? As I say, my daughter was doing fine getting a few points at the OU when she was eight. The only thing is, that although she was doing all the work herself, there was no way of checking this. It might have been like a coursework scam and I might have been doing it for her. This makes some course of this sort a little less reliable than if a child actually sits in a room under moderated conditions and takes an examination. The IGCSEs show that she is capable of certain level of work at mathematics; they show that she herself can perform calculus. Points on an Open University course do not necessarily demonstrate the same thing at all.
There is something a little quixotic about the determination of so many home educating parents to avoid GCSEs. It is as though they are set on making life for their children just that little bit harder as they grow up. Everybody else is using an accepted scale of measuring something and they are hell bent on using something quite different.
None of this has anything to do with whether one believes or not that GCSEs or IGCSEs are actually measuring anything or saying anything worthwhile about the intelligence or education of a teenager. It is a matter of realpolitic; this what everybody believes and this is the system which is generally accepted. That being the case, it is hard to see any justification for engaging our children, who are not old enough to make an informed choice in the matter, in opposing the system. Certainly as adults, we can choose to make our lives difficult by being bloody-minded, but it is hardly fair to encourage our children to adopt a similar frame of mind as they deal with the world. Why would you do that, anyway?