What will my child do once they have attained a handful of (I)GCSEs? This is one of the many questions which taunt a home educating parent's mind.
And this has been very close to our hearts, so, on a more personal level , I will share some of our experiences of our son, Ben, who turned 16 yrs two weeks ago.
Whether or not the decision to take some exams was for furthering one's education or just for the simple reason that they are 'stepping stones' for further learning, the whole exam procedure can be thorny and formidable.
With numerous boards and different grading systems, the exams can never really reflect a child's true intelligence. 'Exam technique' is now taught as a lesson within schools so our home educated children stand far less of a chance of claiming very high grades unless groomed to answer the questions in a certain manner. I believe it is important to arm oneself with this knowledge before entering into the exam world.
Nowadays most Further Education colleges or schools require between 5 and 7 GCSEs grades A to C in order to study A levels or a B-TEC (equal to two,three or even four A levels), vocational diplomas etc. The level of entry is not particularly demanding and most home educated children will achieve this.
Returning to Ben. He made the decision to take the IGCSEs purely because he could see this was what was required in order for him to proceed in his hopeful career within the RAF. After asking a few relevant people he was advised to go onto study A levels, and even study for a degree before applying to RAF Cranwell. Should he change direction, A levels and a degree would be of benefit in applying for other careers or courses.
In most careers elementary education is essential, A levels a very good idea and a degree extremely beneficial. It may just end up as a 'piece of paper' one can wave in front of a prospective employer, but the piece of paper may be between you and the person without one!
But where does the Catholic home educated student study for the A levels? Ideally at home. However, very few children (Catholic or otherwise) stay at home for this level of study; they really are far more demanding and with usually other children at home requiring attention and lessons, it makes it almost an impossibility.
So then the enormous question arises of where do they go? There are a few options- private schools, state sixth forms, further education colleges or night school among others.
One would have to discern extremely carefully and precisely what would be the best avenue for their child. Some children at just 16 or 16.5yrs depending upon their birthday (in the UK the year begins on September 1st so Ben being an August baby will be one of the very youngest in his year) will not want to embark on college life where there are often mature students studying alongside them.
The state school will only accept children of exactly the correct year group and private schools are often happy to defer a year so a child could begin a year later. (Although one may need up to £6,000 per TERM for private schools- not a viable option for us!).
Again great discernment must take place, with of course much prayer, as to the social and peer pressure of the school on one's previously home educated, Catholic 16year old. (Along side the concern of the often adjoining 'Connexions' brigade, co-education, family planning and other intrusive posters and pamphlets thrust in their faces etc.) This is what we're facing right now- in one week's time our eldest child will step foot in a (local state sixth form) school for the very first time aged 16 and three weeks old and it is an emotionally wrought time; full of anxieties and questions of whether we're making the right decision, will he be able to manage, what happens if he changes, is led astray, is not strong enough...the list is endless and all we can do is pray, pray , pray!
This is why I believe it is such a personal choice as to what parents decide post-16yr for their children. One aspect plays upon my mind often though; had we kept Ben at home for A levels (if a fairy Godmother was good enough to teach him four A levels and provide prep and support...) then what would happen when he was faced with the world at 18? How would he possibly cope with University at 18 or even 19 if he'd had no previous experience away from home before this? Going into sixth form which is 10minutes walk away from the home he knows and (God willing!) loves should arm him with confidence and fortitude; to know that in the afternoon he will walk home to his family and share his day, full of all the expected joys and anxieties with his parents and gather support and love to face the next day.
So for us we feel we don't have many options; our son desires a career which demands a University education and for this he needs a, b and c and so with our hands held together and down our knees we pray fervently this is God's will and He will watch over our first born son.