Getting started on your home-education journey
Now you have committed to home-education it is time to get started. First things first – find an exam centre. This may seem illogical to begin your journey at the exit point but it makes sense because the exam centre will dictate what you can and can’t do (in terms of what they offer). This is important because for students who have been in school the chances are they will have been following standard GCSEs provided by AQA, Edexcel, OCR or Eduqas. Home educators are largely limited to IGCSEs (also known as International GCSEs) and the only current providers are Edexcel and CAIE (Cambridge Assessment). Try not to confuse the two (GCSEs and IGCSEs); they are quite different in approach although some of the content is the same. Standard GCSEs often have a practical element, such as a speaking assessment for English Language or laboratory practicals for sciences. This is virtually impossible to organise as a home educator so it is very unlikely you will be able to continue with subjects such as PE, dance, drama and art. IGCSEs are designed for overseas students where access to some facilities may be limited, hence there are not usually any practical assessments and they are more likely to be appropriate for private candidates (i.e. home educated students). Every qualification has a specification document that will specify whether it is open to private candidates (you can search the document for the term ‘private candidates’ to help you find where this is mentioned as these documents can be quite long).
Lists of exam centres change regularly so the best way to approach this issue is to join social media groups, such as:
and ask for recommendations depending on where you live. You may have to travel some distance to find an exam centre with space. Places for private candidates fill up early.
Many home-educating parents mistakenly believe that their children will be able to take exams at their old school or locally at a nearby college or even at home, and that they will be free of charge. This is sadly not the case. Finding an exam centre is the first task you will be faced with and you need to do it well in advance. Sadly, every year, exam centres close their doors to private candidates and this is largely because of the complications involved in playing host to a very diverse group with varying needs, and the time it takes to service those needs of each bespoke individual. Please have this in mind when you are approaching exam centres. You can help by keeping your emails and phone calls to a minimum and by also being realistic in your expectations. It is very unlikely that a centre will provide a separate room for your son or daughter and extremely unlikely indeed that you will be able to take exams from home.
You need to help by making sure you check timetables and take ownership for your part in the process. Make sure you know where to be when. You may have to organise overnight stays and you will most definitely need a passport or some form of ID. It is amazing how many students find they have no form of identification just days before their first exam. If you have to show your passport every time just accept it. Exam centres must follow rules and these rules prevent cheating so please bear this in mind. Centres such as ‘Tutors and Exams’ offer multiple centres for exams and are very familiar with home-educating parents. If there is a branch near you that would be an excellent starting place. But book early (9 months in advance) and if you need to stay over, book that too.
Remember, most qualifications will have more than one paper and these papers will be sat on different days, some of them a few weeks apart. It is your job to check the exam timetable. Provisional timetables come out almost one year in advance but they do change so keep checking for any small alterations. If you miss an examination it will not be possible to resit it within the exam series and it may impossible to obtain a grade for that qualification; you would have to resit all of the papers for that qualification in a future exam series and pay the full costs of registering again.
Do remember – most exam centres are able to accommodate SEN and additional needs, if set out in an EHCP, but they will need to know these well in advance and there may be additional charges. They may not be able to accommodate single rooms for candidates, so again please check with the centre.
Questions at this point…
Yes they do. Some sixth form colleges may tell parents that they cannot accept students who have IGCSEs for A Levels but that is simply because they are less familiar with IGCSE qualifications; you may need to speak to them to explain that the qualifications are equivalent. Many independent schools in the UK, including many famous ones, study IGCSEs rather than GCSEs. However, the IGCSE qualifications are not regulated by Ofqual hence they cannot be taken by state schools because they will only fund Ofqual recognised qualifications. Schools including Eton, Winchester College and Manchester Grammar School take IGCSEs.
This comment below by St Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge actually suggests IGCSEs are more demanding that GCSEs. Some teachers believe this to be the contrary but remember, IGCSEs are mainly taken in the UK by selective schools therefore their results are likely to be better overall.
We are also happy with IGCSEs – indeed, these can be slightly more demanding than their GCSE counterparts, so we often find that applicants have taken slightly fewer of them.
Almost but not always. Although GCSEs and IGCSEs are very similar in terms of the standard they require and the challenges they expect you to approach, they are not the same. This means you will need to furnish yourselves with new text books or student books. IGCSEs are regularly sat by children for whom English is a second language (overseas) so some of the wording and the use of English common parlance is avoided so as not to be taken literally. Expressions such as ‘a bird’s eye view’ or ‘that’s the last thing I would do’ will make perfect sense to a native English speaker but may be taken literally by a non-native speaker. This can make the IGCSE option a sensible choice for SEN children who may also see the literal in idiomatic English.
Most student books are available on Amazon or in good bookshops but do make sure you buy the right resources or books for the specification you are studying. Don’t be tempted to cut corners and don’t make the easy mistake of buying a GCSE text book when you need an IGCSE text book. You will need both the relevant student book and a good relevant revision guide for each subject.
Yes, but do be careful. Specifications change quite regularly and you need to make sure your text book is up to date and relevant. You can check the date of the current specification online; each specification will have a qualification code which you should be able to use to match up with the textbook you are considering using. This is very important with subjects such as Geography where case studies change. Always check the date of publication of any text book that you are offered. Case studies in a Geography text book written 12 years ago will be out of date and of little use in a paper set more than a decade later. This is a common mistake to make so think carefully and do your research before you buy.
Second hand books are regularly offered for sale on the Home Education social media pages but make sure you check that they follow the right qualification before purchasing.