Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Education Committee considers support for home educators

As most readers will be aware, the Education  Committee, a select committee,  has launched an enquiry into the support available for home education in this country. It seems to me inevitable that this enquiry will lead eventually to more involvement by local authorities into the lives of many home educators. One of the problems that some home educators face is that they would like their children to take GCSEs and other examinations, but lack both the expertise and money to arrange them. It is manifestly unjust that a home educated child whose parents have perhaps been paying taxes for years should have to pay again to access GCSEs. It is also to the benefit of society in general that more of the fifty thousand or so children currently being educated at home should gain GCSEs. This would help them to progress into further and higher education and also make them more attractive to potential employers. I have an idea that this is one area of support where the select committee might make a definite recommendation.

This is all well and good, but the implications for both those who do want their children to take exams and also those who do not, are profound. Let us look first at those parents who do wish their children to sit GCSEs. Children at school typically sit eight or ten GCSEs; obviously, if you are going to provide finance and other assistance for home educated children to sit them and the local authorities will be receiving the Age Weighted Pupil Units for each child, then some parents will want their children to sit the same number as pupils in schools. My own daughter took eight IGCSEs and if the local authority had been offering financial help, then I would have expected them to pay for  those GCSEs that I wanted my child to sit. Now all this will mean spending public money. You can’t just chuck it around willy nilly and so we hit the first difficulty. How will local authorities know whether or not they are simply wasting the money by entering some child for ten GCSEs? They would be unlikely to take my word for it that my daughter knew enough about physics to get an A*; they would want to make sure that they weren’t wasting time and money arranging for her to sit physics. For all they know, she might be barely literate, the whole thing might really be a pointless enterprise for all concerned. Perhaps she should just sit one or two, in perhaps English and maths, rather than physics, chemistry, history and geography as well? Even then, if they did enter her for maths, should she be entered for foundation or higher? How can they find out what level she is at in the various subjects?

Already, before the scheme is even off the ground, testing of the academic achievements of home educated children by local authority officers has appeared. Indeed, it is an inevitable development if once you concede that the local authority will be assessing the amount of money to be spent on arranging for these children to take examinations. Still, it might be argued, this is all voluntary. Only those parents who wish their children to take GCSEs will be involved. Just because I want my daughter to sit GCSEs, that does not mean that an autonomously educating parent in the next street would have to do the same. Nobody would have to submit to this testing and all these questions. This is ingenuous. If once local authorities begin regularly testing the abilities of home educated children, it will create an entirely new situation. This testing is bound to spread to parents whom the local authority will talk into it and encourage to become involved for the sake of their children, who would do so much better if they were to have a few GCSEs.

Now as it happens, I do not think that this would be a bad thing at all. Speaking personally, I would like local authorities to ask more questions of parents and to see how their children were doing; whether they really were being provided with a suitable education and so on. I would be glad if local authority officers were to start pressing parents to think about GCSEs and doing their best to see that the children studied for and took them. Not everybody feels this way though.

The point I am making is this. What sounds like a perfectly innocuous and well-meaning idea, making it easier for those who want to enter their children for examinations, has serious implications for the future of all home educating parents. It has the potential to create conflict a few years down the line, if taking GCSEs became the aim of local authorities for home educated children in their area, rather than simply an optional service which they provided. I think that people need to think about this a little before championing one side or the other in this question. They need particularly to think carefully before expressing too vehemently these views before select committees or to local authorities.


  1. Wouldn't the cost of testing, marking and assessment to see if a child is ready to take GCSEs begin to approach the cost of GCSEs? GCSEs costs can presumably be kept down because of the large numbers and organization involved.

  2. As someone who has written a submission, I can assure you that I am fully aware of these points; and I know that some may well be worried about the pitfalls for those who don't want to "opt in " for such provision, if it becomes available.

    However, I suspect that many, many would welcome wider access to exams and funding for them. As many readers here will already know, we run a sort of home ed tuition centre for GCSEs, this year we had about 40 candidates taking exams ( 90% of which were taught by us, the other 10% were from families outside our group). Many of those are from families who are eager for exam success yet struggle to fund the exams; there must be a way to help these people.

    Yes, there are a few families who completely eschew exams at GCSE level - some have children with highly complex special needs for whom exams are completely irrelevant, others have relied on the OU route - but of course with the introduction of student loans to this sector this route will be barred to many after this year. The internet lists may be littered with the anti-exam brigade but real life home education has less of them. The loss of adult ed provision, the rise of vocational courses at 16 and the fact that many colleges are now more picky in some areas means I think that many more families will embrace, perhaps reluctantly, exams at 16 for their children.

    1. I don't think there are many who are anti-exam as such. It's often more a case of preferring alternatives, partly because GCSEs are so difficult to organise from home.

      Two of my children didn't want to take GCSEs, mainly because they had already decided on their area of interest and didn't want to spend so much time studying for exams in other subjects (they have a good general knowledge but studying for exams to prove it would have taken too much time, in their view). They applied to college without GCSEs, one for a level 2 course with a portfolio (successfully), whilst the other enquired about the appropriate level 1 BTEC course. The college asked them to complete one of the level 2 assignments instead and offered them a place on that course on the basis of the work they handed in, so they both gained places on courses in subject areas that had interested them for years (and have since passed with flying colours and gone onto higher level courses and university).

      Another child decided to go to college for GCSEs. Luckily we live in an area where this is still possible (I believe most colleges tend to run courses only for those who have already failed the GCSE). We also have a few evening adult education GCSE courses in this area - English, Maths, Science and Biology.

  3. 'Wouldn't the cost of testing, marking and assessment to see if a child is ready to take GCSEs begin to approach the cost of GCSEs?'

    Yes it would. Anybody who has had dealings with home educating parents arranging for their kids to take GCSEs knows that it is a very time consuming business. I have an idea if local authorities were told to get involved in this that it would work out to be very costly. They would either have to engage new staff or pay a large bill for overtime.

    1. My point was, why would they test a child to see if they are ready to take a GCSE in order to avoid wasting money, if this testing itself would cost nearly as much or possibly more than the GCSEs? It would probably be cheaper just to enter children for the GCSE on request. The point was made in response to this part of your article:

      "Already, before the scheme is even off the ground, testing of the academic achievements of home educated children by local authority officers has appeared. Indeed, it is an inevitable development if once you concede that the local authority will be assessing the amount of money to be spent on arranging for these children to take examinations."

  4. 'However, I suspect that many, many would welcome wider access to exams and funding for them.'

    True indeed and I think that it is a matter of natural justice that they should be provided with access to them. The difficulty is that the only way that could beome an accepted and routine state of affairs would be by handing over the AWPU for such children and it would then be a question of which children were going to sit exams and how far in advance it would be possible to apply for the funding. I am in favour of all this, but at the same time recognise that it would put pressure ultimately on those who were unable or unwilling for their children to sit GCSEs. I am just pointing out that this is a move which is likely to change the nature of home edcuation. I think that it would be for the better, but others do not. I wanted to point out a few implications.

    Incidentally, I too have submitted a statement to the select committee, also urging them to consider this. I am just a little uneasy that it might turn out to have unexpected and unwanted side effects.

  5. 'It would probably be cheaper just to enter children for the GCSE on request.'

    Ah, I see what you mean. The difficulty is that entering a lot of home educated children for exams is not such a straightforward business as it is for ordinary school pupils. An awful lot of them require special conditions; ranging from scribes and extra time to quiet rooms entirely separate from the other children. Few parents know whether their children should be entered for upper or lower tier, foundation or higher; things of that sort. Many home educating parents will be chopping and changing, trying to enter children after the dealines, needing explanations and so on, being taught in fact the mechanics of GCSE entry.

    Obviously, local authorities will wish to minimise the amount of work like this and avoid engaging with any parents whose children are really not up to taking the exams. To do this, they will need to speak to the parents and conduct some sort of assessment of the children. Allowing all children to enter as many GCSEs as their parents wish would create a logistical nightmare.

    1. And adding multiple additional administrative layers always helps, and just producing clear guidelines and rules will just confuse the issue...

  6. for once old Webb is right if your taking money or help from LA there going want to check on you and speak to child see what your up 2 after all it is tax payers money you would be taking and then it becomes the norm? home visit interviews would becoem the norm.

  7. I would very much welcome extra help from my LA in this area. We cannot afford to pay for our eldest to take even as little as 5 exams from home. As a result we have no option but to go down the school route, which I am extremely unhappy about. Our LA is very unhelpful in this area. Anything that makes the exam process easier to field and less expensive would be a good thing for those of us who want our children to take them.

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  9. hi, so for a home educator of a child just starting year 7 at home should I be making plans for GCSE specific training now or give a general education for another couple of year. Yes we want him to take as many GCSE's as we can afford which may be a humbe amount but i've already spoken to OCR about a L2 national cert in ICT and tey told me he couldnt do it because no one was adjudicating his course work. Is this going to be a problem for all qualifications apart from GCSE.
    I'd appreciate any advice on the whole area of exams. How do I know which syllabus to plough through, how do I provately enter him through a local exam centre if they are taking for instance AQA Science A and I want to teach Edexcel Applied Science.
    Apologies for my niavety.

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