These are show notes taken from Episode #6 of our podcast: “How do home educated kids sit GCSEs?” Listen to the full episode here.
Syd dives deep into the complexities of learning at home and answers questions frequently asked by parents, both familiar and new to home education.
One thing I am keen to do, as a founder of UK Virtual School, is to help guide families who reach out to us. I’ve been having meetings with old and new families to guide them through the structure of UK Virtual School and also to listen, to hear, and to understand their stories and their journeys. One thing that we realise when we’re working with home educating families is that everyone’s journey and story is unique, as unique as our fingerprint. With every journey and story that we’re told, we can develop UK Virtual School to become a better, more inclusive and diverse place.
Parental engagement is really important to us. We often describe our relationship with parents and kids as a three-way relationship: between the parent, the child, and UK Virtual School. We want the parents to be involved. Many schools struggle to get parents’ involvement in their child’s education. When parents opt to home educate, they very much want to be involved. With their involvement, their kids will have the best facilitated education that they can find. But a common question I do get asked by lots of people, and also new people looking to home educate, is about assessment and exams.
Does my child need to sit exams?
How will my child sit exams?
What happens with coursework?
How does UK Virtual School assess where my child’s at?
Do I need to be in the UK?
How many GCSEs does my child need to sit?
Will colleges, universities, and employers take these grades and this journey of home education into account?
Let’s go to the first one, “Does my child need to sit exams?” I think it’s important to discuss here what exams you’re required to take as a home educator. Technically, none. Primary age families tend to worry about SATs. As a home educator, there is no requirement to take any of those. Of course, you can print off practice papers and you can get your child to do them. But SATs are normally there to assess the school’s progress as a whole, not individual child progress. So what exams do home educators do? Well, I’ve said technically, they don’t have to do any. You don’t have to do any exams, you don’t have to do GCSEs, you don’t have to do A-levels. But realistically universities, colleges, and employers will expect at least some sort of qualifications.
What does the law say about home education? Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states, “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable – to his age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs or additional learning needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.” You don’t need to see any examinations. You don’t need to have a nine-to-three regimen in place. Education can happen in very many different ways. And as home educators, the families get to decide what kind of education a child needs and what kind of education they want to provide. Education isn’t just pen and paper. It isn’t just sitting in front of a computer. It isn’t just doing worksheets. Education is wherever you want it to be. And that could be playing with Lego, watching a video or a documentary.
So that’s the first question, “Does my child need to sit exams?” The answer is no. And I mentioned just a bit earlier, that realistically, it’s probably a good idea especially in Maths and English. Many home educating families will do five GCSEs and this is what I would recommend personally. Five GCSEs give you a good range of skills across five different subjects.
Now, what about “How does my child sit exams? What about coursework?” These two are interlinked. So with GCSE English, for example, there is a speaking component which is very difficult to do as a home educator. It’s not impossible, but it’s just difficult to do and very few exam centers offer that as a result. So how do we get around that? How do we get around things like coursework and other things like practical assessments for Science?
There’s a difference between iGCSE, which is what home educators normally do, and GCSE. GCSE stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education and iGCSE is international GCSE. What does that actually mean? There are many kids abroad that study the British curriculum and they might not have access to teachers who can mock coursework or access to practical assessments. So iGCSEs is a way to sit exams internationally. Most home educators also opt for this because it means that there’s no speaking component for English and it means there’s no practical component for Science. iGCSEs are equivalent to GCSEs – they’re recognized everywhere. The exams can’t be sat online. There seems to be a misconception that because we are an online school, your child will be able to sit the exam with us online. That can’t happen. The exams have to be sat in a physical location and invigilated to the exam board standard. And that needs to be done at registered exam centers.
Another common question that we get asked is “How do you assess the progress of my child?” As a school policy, we don’t mark homework. The exception is when we get to Year 9, there will be certain points in the year where teachers will ask for homework to be submitted because they want to have a look at it and they want to assess where your child’s at. We also have mock exams in Year 9, Year 10, and Year 11. Those are done under exam conditions but virtually. We get a really good idea of where your child is at if they have done those under exam conditions. So we do some assessment when it comes to Year 9, 10, and 11 but lower down the school, generally, we do not mark homework as such.
That is because we’re trying to instill a growth mindset. When you mark work and you give a grade or you have ticks and you have crosses, it forces a child to focus on those ticks and crosses and not on the journey that they’ve taken to produce that homework. What we want to do is to focus on the concept, the understanding, and how they’re thinking before they get to the answer. By doing it the way that we do, it’s very effective. It works. It builds up confidence with the kids, and they definitely make progress.
“Do I need to be in the UK?” To study for the exams, no. You can study with us virtually, anywhere in the world. To sit the exams themselves, you will need to search for a local centre.
“How many GCSEs does my child need to take?” If you go to a traditional school, they will do a minimum of 10. Some schools do 11, some schools do 12, 13, and even 14 exams. That is very stressful for kids. Most home educators opt for five, you can do more.
One thing that parents worry about is “Are iGCSEs accepted by universities? Are they accepted by employers?” As I’ve said earlier, iGCSEs and GCSEs are equivalent to each other. Most private schools in the UK did iGCSEs because they were a lot more demanding. It meant that they were purely assessed on the exam. There was no coursework, there was no opportunity to potentially cheat. There was no opportunity to build skills in coursework over a period of time – it was all assessed at the end of the two years. With the new curriculum change a couple of years ago, when we moved to numbering as grading rather than letters, GCSEs and iGCSEs are more aligned now.
One reason why a lot of private schools and grammar schools now do not opt for iGCSEs is because they are not used on league tables. So to be able to show that a school is comparable to another school, most schools are now opting for GCSEs. But this does not mean that they are any less rigorous. This does not mean that it’s a different qualification. They’re equivalent qualifications and there are variances and differences in the curriculum. But the basics are covered in both.
To summarise, I’ve gone through a list of different common questions that I get asked by families who are worried about what’s going to happen when their child gets to exam age. Planning for home educating kids can be daunting. But with the right mindset and tools equipped, your children will be able to independently navigate through the course of their future. It’s a matter of pointing them in the right direction and making sure that their shining light never fades away.
Podcasts are accessible to many families due to the number of platforms hosting them – and you don’t have to be enrolled to listen and be able to relate! The content covered is just as much of a learning journey to everyone. The UK Virtual School podcast plays a key part in our journey to an education revolution. Hosted by our founder Syd, the series covers a plethora of topics about changing the landscape of home education – the UKVS ethos, tips and guides for parents, shifting mindsets, interviews with actual parents and teachers, and many more! Listen to the series and episodes here.