Partly as a result of appearing in local newspapers and partly because of this blog, I have got to know a number of home educating parents in this corner of Essex. One of them, I first met two years ago, when his daughter was twelve and had just been deregistered from her secondary school. The child liked studying, which set her apart from many of the other pupils at her school. Last week, the parents got in touch with me, because they didn’t know what to do. The girl is now fourteen and is dead keen on going to university at eighteen, to study either history or English. She will need A levels for subjects like these and so her parents made initial enquiries at the two local FE colleges; Harlow and Epping Forest.
I might mention at this point that the mother and father had been excited to learn about the possibility of fourteen and fifteen year-old home educated children being able to study at college. What nobody had told them, on the internet lists or elsewhere, is that this would not be possible for A levels; at least, not without a clutch of GCSEs. They are feeling very anxious now, as to what their next step should be.
Harlow and Epping Forest have traditionally been very low achieving colleges and they have recently made efforts to raise their standards. On A level courses, for instance, there was always a high dropout and failure rate. They have tackled this by making it far more difficult to get on the courses in the first place. When my daughter went to Harlow, she needed five GCSEs at A*-C; which was pretty standard at that time, four years ago. Things have changed dramatically. Epping Forest now requires five GCSEs at A*-B. Harlow want seven GCSEs and if you wish to take mathematics at A level, you must have a GCSE at B. There are absolutely no exceptions to these rules.
I think that the parents to whom I had been speaking had thought in terms of their daughter taking GCSEs at college or perhaps some literacy test before A levels. Nothing doing; the colleges are not taking any chances now. They are determined to keep up their results and not let anybody in to study A levels who might fail or drop out. The result is that the girl in question could, if she wished, study hairdressing, film-making, motor mechanics and so on. She cannot without those GCSEs, get on to an A level course. In effect, the result of withdrawing her from school and believing much of what her parents were told on various support groups has sounded the death knell for her hopes of going to university to study history.
This is a sad case, but by no means unusual. I think that many parents have vague memories of doing O levels at college or remember when they ran evening classes for those who did badly in their GCEs. Anybody thinking of home educating a teenager who might wish to study an academic subject at university, really needs to find out about this!