Wednesday, 29 August 2012

IGCSEs and beyond...

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.


  1. Nice post, Amanda. I think it is so important to stress that each family has to make a personal decision for their own child - indeed, that decision might be very different for each child within one family!

    Having pretty much followed our own way of doing things for a decade of home-ed, we found ourselves with an almost fourteen year old who saw his peers heading into more 'serious' exam territory and asked, 'What will I do?' After lots of prayer (HSD?GCSE?) we decided to go for a few trial GCSEs. We got through but with no tutor support and a large family to home-ed besides it certainly wasn't easy. No time to stop for breath when your then 15 year old decides that 6th Form might be a good option - more GCSEs (and for us a new baby in the middle of it all!). The whole thing taught me to make decisions a lot earlier and be better prepared (well, I'm working on that one!).

    My eldest (now heading into upper 6th) does feel he has to explain to people that he was NOT tutored as he's up against home-ed kids who have had a super education in terms of one-to-one tuition (rather than mum casting a glance over essays late in the evening when the little ones are finally asleep!). He prefers the term, 'self -taught' ;-) For a busy mother, this is a very challenging time, and you do run the risk of ending up with sufficient rather than spectacular grades - that's a price you have to be prepared to pay if you are planning to 'go it alone', and financially speaking, many of us have no choice. Having said that, I haven't yet tried this with what I would term a 'highly-motivated' child (though I believe they do exist..). I'm sure such a child might overcome the obstacles and obtain excellent grades with plenty of help/advice.

    Regarding A levels, it is a tricky one. I know parents who would be happy to do GCSES from home but are not prepared to send their children to 6th form, so they see GCSEs as a bit of a dead end- then they often prefer to go with the HSDiploma or even the French boarding school. Again, this is something parents need to work out in advance - what are these GCSEs for? Is your child likely to go to a UK University? Or, is he/she likely to want to apply for a Saturday job, for which at least GCSE maths and English seems to be (quite reasonably) a prerequisite.

  2. Thank you for your comments. You make quite a few points and one of them regarding what happens after GCSEs if say the parent is not keen for the child to enter into the UK school/college system is a valid one indeed.

    As you say it is an adequate prerequisite for any one applying for (virtually) any job to have the elementary qualifications in at least English Language and Maths...that goes without saying.

    A child could still proceed with a few IGCSEs at home even if the end goal is not FE- the stress would probably then be lifted and they would be able to go more in depth with what they were learning and probably gain more benefit from these courses (going to science fairs, attending plays, extra reading etc.)

    It is immensely hard within a Catholic family of various age levels to fully support each and every course one's child is preparing for and we too had a new baby just as Ben had set off on his IGCSE career! And trying to succeed in less than a year when the courses demand two years is a real challenge!

    Lastly, I welcome the term 'self taught' and this is also what we call our home education. We are directing them in their learning and helping when and if required, yet they are attaining great life skills within this context- learning to think for themselves, independence, gathering information alone and not being spoon fed and I believe this counts for far,far more than a collection of A*s which no one will remember in ten years time!

  3. I hope Ben has a great experience at sixth-form college next week, and will keep him in mind. I don't know what the college is like, but there's every possibility that he will thrive on it intellectually, and absolutely love it. All the more so, for not having had to go through the grind which much of education increasingly resembles up to GCSE. Many, many teenagers who've been wholly ambivalent about education up to age 16 really blossom in the sixth-form.

    In fact, in my experience, boys who have left the fifth form in June often return to school in September as very different characters. More serious, more adult. Boys develop very rapidly between 16 and 18, and it's almost as though they 'shed their skin' at age 16, and again at age 18.

    Do you know the brief prayer for students of St Fulgentius? It might be worth Ben saying each day before he goes to college. It used to be used daily by Jesuits, when that great order was Catholic. I'll dig it out and send it to you.

    1. Thank you for your words and I await the prayer eagerly. Isn't St Thomas Aquinas and St Joseph of Cupertino (exams) Patrons of students too? Any Heavenly help for the forthcoming debut into the school system is greatly welcome!

      Ben is actually beginning a sixth form of a local school. It is a brand new 'eco' building only opened last year and completely separate and distinct to the rest of the school, however it is on the same grounds.

      We are terribly anxious of him beginning school however we feel he is quite ready and the closeness of the school is a great advantage.
      It is interesting to hear what you say about the maturity of boys between 16-18yrs and we hope the children in sixth form are there because they have chosen this and not because it is a legal requirement.