Saturday, 1 December 2012

The right time

When is the 'right' time to contemplate exams?

As home schoolers we have the discretion to go at our child's pace and decide upon the time they are ready to sit these exams which are deemed so very important here in the UK.

IGCSEs can be looked upon in varying ways; as stepping stones to the next stage in a child's educational 'career' or as time filler;, something to do whilst deliberating what they really want to learn. (Although I must confess I have seldom met anyone doing this.)

Many years back when we began home educating I felt quite compelled to bypass all the exams; why, if I was home educating my children would I ever need to bother about exams? Surely, I naively thought, they could just go straight to A levels or even enter University as mature students (if they chose)? As they and their friends grew older more home educating friends of mine began making the decision to follow the IGCSE route from home; and  I began to feel more wary, more anxious. What if my grand ideas fell apart? It was one aspect trying to encompass a 'classical' style format within the confines of the home; filling the home with Montessori style 'work' for the younger children and holding this philosophy throughout, and basing my home made curriculas on 'classical' style materials, filling their minds with great literature, museum outings and lots of home education work shops, but the children were growing older, and with it there was suddenly more to prove...and more at stake. Could they maintain all this AND do a few exam courses?

So, when is a sensible and workable average age to sit these exams? Of course this will depend upon the child and their capacity to retain information and their maturity to cope with exams.
Many home schoolers we know begin earlier than schooled children for the mere fact that it is near impossible to do as many exams from home as they do in school theses days.

Incredibly children are now taking up to 12 GCSEs in school. We must remember though  a few factors which bring comfort and solace to the UK home schooler 'going it alone'. Firstly the GCSEs are no where near as intense and rigorous as the IGCSEs which most home schoolers do as they require no coursework and it is very hard to find a centre/school who would be willing to assess coursework. With IGCSEs there is usually much more work to cover and so they demand more time and understanding. This, to me, was actually a benefit as I was far more concerned about the quality of what my children learnt than how many exams they were going to procure.

Secondly, the schools groom the child by 'spoon feeding' them exactly what they are required to know and then spend many an hour teaching a certain lesson which is unknown of in the home school world; 'exam technique'. So, automatically, schooled children are at a great advantage in terms of exam-passing! Marry that to easier exams with a vast portion of them being course work, then it is crystal clear why home educated children *may* not come out of the exam war with as many IGCSEs as their schooled fellows.

Due to the amount of work required for an IGCSE and that it is solely exam based it is understandable that the home educated family will attempt to split these exams up over two, three even four years, gaining two, three , four IGCSEs per year.

We attempted this with our first son and are currently doing this with our daughter and, to me, it is the only feasible way of doing it. Yet it does demand some solid preparation and questions. How many exams will my child really need? Are they particularly capable at one or two subjects? If so, it makes sense to take these ones first.
English Language and Literature, for example, usually demand a certain maturity as there is much writing and the analysis and critique must be mastered for literature. Or some children find Maths extremely taxing and will prefer to leave this until last.

Children all have their strengths and weaknesses and the beauty of home educating our God given children is that we, as their parents, know them so well that the decision of when to take exams and when to hold off will be more apparent to us and thus make this task so much more attainable.

May the Most Holy Family always pray for us and guide us wisely!

Monday, 5 November 2012

First term impressions in sixth form.

As many people know our son Ben has recently made his debut into the school system for the very first time. I asked him to write an account of how he felt now he'd been 'inside' for a few months!

Of course each and every child's experience of school will be entirely different from the school to the student. Ben is a particularly laid back kind of young man and very friendly and willing so we're very thankful that, so far, his school life is proving to be fruitful.

Contemplating sixth form

One could never argue that the transition from home-schooling into full time education at school was an insignificant thing or a change that does not come along with its own set of unique challenges. I had been home-schooled all the way through primary education, and on through secondary education, so I had never had any first-hand experience in a school.  The day before I began sixth form my mind was overflowing with (now ridiculous) stereotypical views on what it would be like; the “popular kids” in the corner, the “school bully” going around causing havoc and the “nerds” sitting in their own little huddles doing huge amounts of work. Of course all these views were proved wrong the second I stepped through the door. I found that every one from teachers to pupils to the Headmaster went out of their way to get to know me and make every effort to help me enjoy and flourish in this (strange, new) environment that I would be spending the next two years of my young adult life in.

What you notice immediately (or at least what I first noticed) was that everybody is more mature; there is no ‘larking around’. My only real experience with “school kids” beforehand had been in my football teams that I used to play for. I always remembered them being a bolshie and boisterous lot who enjoyed causing trouble and making life even more difficult for the instructors/teachers. The reason Sixth Formers are not like this is due to post-sixteen education not being compulsory: all the ones who did not enjoy working and were not motivated enough have either left to look for jobs or gone to a more vocational style college. (or otherwise!)

In my Sixth Form it is very easy to escape the mostly bustling common room and find a quiet place to work, whether it be the ‘Quiet Room’ designated for silent study, or in an empty classroom upstairs. The head of Sixth Form, an incredibly dynamic and influential woman, constantly tries (and succeeds!) to instill in each student the motivation to work independently. Now, if one was to ask me to sum up home-schooling in two words, I would immediately reply “independent learning”. This is, of course, given to us by our parents. This means that when joining school after being home-schooled we already have this key skill. It also means that the teachers don’t need to drill “work at home, read around the subjects, work independently,” into our minds like they do to the students who have been in school all along. I have seen this first hand already, many times, when a teacher has said “go home and read up about all this and put some independent notes together” and the people in school previously find it really hard to do, when it is almost second nature to me.

The major reason Catholic home-schoolers worry about sending their child to school is the effect it may have on their faith. I know this was my Mother’s main concern, and I can honestly say two months down the line I do not feel in the least uncomfortable about my beliefs or my view, which I knew would be contrary to most students there. Never have I once heard any anti-religious comments nor had any kind of criticism about my faith, and all my friends at school know I am a practising Catholic. It just doesn’t mean anything to them other than, “He’s a Catholic.” I even once had an interesting conversation with a practising protestant about the  true meaning of ‘Halloween’  something we both agreed on. (Agreeing with a protestant? That’s a new one!). If any one is up for a good debate about abortion or euthanasia then I’ll be in the thick of it but I wouldn’t spend my day pricking people’s consciences (well, not yet, I’ve only been there two months!).

Another advantage of going into sixth form is the opportunity of sports. Even though we’re a new sixth form we have formed a competent 11-a-side with matches against other sixth forms and colleges. We train every Thursday but in true school style I find myself cramming my lunch into my mouth and running off to play footie every single lunch time! I also enjoy Archery classes each week which are just fantastic. Last week I returned from the five day preliminary expedition for the Duke of Edinburgh Gold award. I find this is a great advantage as although this would have been possible through air cadets or home schooling groups, we have a professional team taking us through it.

To conclude, school has been a demanding transition, but an enjoyable one. It is a very rewarding system with its end of term reports and awards, and this takes place in a friendly and mature atmosphere. If there was anything I could say against school it would certainly be a grudge against the homework. The idea of two/three hours homework after school is definitely not one of the stereotypical views I had that has been proven wrong, sadly!

Ben Lewin

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Reflections on Oxford Admissions

Many Catholic Families who courageously home educate will have to make the delicate decision of sending their child to University. Many families completely reject this option and the children will either continue to study at home (Open University being a viable alternative or vocational type courses) or they send their child to one of the Catholic American Universities. 
For others, braving the UK Universities is sometimes the only choice. So what do Universities look for in their candidates?

This following article was written by Dr Joseph Shaw (a home educator and Fellow in Philosophy at St Benet's Hall) and he has been involved with the College admissions for years.

Reflections on Oxford Admissions

People always want to know what we look for in a candidate, in interviews, but it is no secret. In some subjects there are skills which candidates must have to start the course—language skills, for example, or mathematical ones. These ought to be tested by their exams. The real use of an interview is to test corrigibility—whether the candidate can be taught. You see if he can follow an argument, respond to criticisms, think of examples, things like that. When you are teaching him in the course itself, in a lecture or a tutorial, will he get the point? And it is in this, as well as in teaching school children how to read and write or add up, that the modern British educational system is failing spectacularly. For it is painfully clear that it is possible to get every accolade the school system can bestow and still be incorrigible—indeed, in many cases the approach to answering questions in which pupils are drilled to get the best marks is an education in incorrigibility. It actually makes them less teachable than they would otherwise have been.

(Dr Shaw takes as an example a candidate, 'Frank', who has eight A*s and one A at GCSE, and is predicated four A's at A level).

His application form was a sight to behold. Judging from his references, a place in Oxford was almost beside the point—the boy deserved a Nobel Prize at least. He was no exam-taking machine: he had all sorts of outside interests, showing everything from heroic compassion to Churchillian leadership qualities. In class he was always the one with the incisive question and the grasp of the topic. He was logical, enquiring, and broad-minded. So into the interview he came, quietly confident, determined to strut his stuff.

So what, for a good school or an A Level examiner today, does being incisive, logical and all the rest actually mean? It turns out it means the ability to drivel both for and against on the hot-button issues of the hour: euthanasia, abortion, war, vegetarianism. Whatever question he was asked, Frank determined the ‘hot topic’ which must be at issue, and he would start to drivel, stating the case ‘for’ in a couple of minutes and then changing tack to the ‘against’ side. He clearly had the A Levels on toast. The questions are highly predictable, and examiners have boxes to tick as candidates make specified points, for and against a position. In Religious Studies and Philosophy A Level, these tend to be on the ‘hot topics’—English Literature and other subjects do their best to cover them as well—and these naturally come up a lot in class discussion. Until he came into my interview room, Frank had never been expected to provide any analysis of a claim, to respond to unanticipated criticisms, or to think about basic moral principles and how they work. On the contrary, he had been patted on the back for his ability to recapitulate show-case arguments for and against on each topic, which were never expected to lead anywhere or be resolved in any way.

My approach in interviews is to try to get the candidate to see that what he is inclined to say about one case doesn’t cohere with what any sensible person would say about another. I move the discussion away from the hot topics in order to get clearer about the moral principles which apply to them; it is easier to see the principles at work in uncontroversial examples.

When I tried to do this with Frank, he practically refused to follow my lead. I would ask him to consider an example, and he would start talking about a superficially similar example back on hot-topic territory. Asking what he thought about anything produced the for-and-against spiel which, inevitably, wasn’t a coherent position, and could not readily be criticised or analysed. When I asked him for an example (of a moral right, say, or a widely accepted moral prohibition), he was paralysed.

He was the most extreme example, but the phenomenon was widespread. School pupils have been turned into machines for spewing out pre-prepared opinions, carefully balanced, on the controversial issues of the day, and the gaining of this faculty actually makes it harder for them to address the fundamental questions upon which those issues really depend, or indeed to think, in a real sense, at all. It is pleasant to see some candidates, not necessarily the ones with the most flawless marks, beginning to see what I wanted of them and responding with interest to a genuine intellectual task—seeing that they had got themselves into a muddle, trying different options to escape, applying a principle grasped in one case to another, and so on. At the end of the day we were able to find enough candidates we would be happy to teach to fill the places we had available, but the superabundance of candidates with three or more A grades at A Level by no means translates into a superabundance of candidates capable of benefiting from an Oxford education.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Studying Greek

I think one would agree that learning Latin puts the classical into 'Classical education' yet some would argue that it is also Greek which makes an education truly classical.

Greek is often begun with two years of Latin learning completed although again, people have differing views upon this, and Greek can be begun at the same time or even on it's own.

In his well regarded book, 'The Latin Centered Curriculum', Andrew Campbell suggests the student begins with koine (the Hellenistic Greek of the Bible). It is known to be slightly simpler grammatically and the child will be more familiar with the Bible translations and therefore it may be an easier introduction to this language.

There is a first volume of a new program called ' Elementary Greek; Koine for beginners' by Christine Gatchell.
This can be found at although I have ordered my first copy from Amazon in the hope my 13yr old studious son will enjoy it!

This little video is helpful along with all the others there;

One of the reasons I am posting on Greek is that it is available to study at GCSE level and a few Catholic home educators have done or are contemplating this. It is a thorough course and the board which offers Greek is OCR;

Edexcel board also offers the Greek GCSE too.

One of the best loved Greek text books for this qualification is John Taylor's wonderful work, 'Greek to GCSE'.
Samuel (the studious son!) is currently working through the first book alone and very much enjoying it.
It is well presented and clear, but the best aspect is that John Taylor will gladly send all home educators the answer key!
He is extremely helpful and is willing to communicate through e-mail offering any help which is needed. Samuel has only contacted him twice but it is assuring to know he is available should he run into difficulty. (John Taylor has also written some well known Latin texts which are widely used.)

Should the Greek student be taken by the language, then John Taylor offers a more substantial book n 'Greek beyond GCSE which prepares for the AS level.

One last addition which I probably should have mentioned first; if you would like your student to become familiar with this wonderful ancient language at an earlier age, then my dear friend Michelle has written and designed some helpful Greek worksheets for younger children;

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Post-IGCSEs Reflections...

A month on and our son Ben has now been part of the local school's brand new sixth form and so I thought I would share his first few impressions of school life.

It has been a reasonably easy transition namely for him rather than us! I am still missing his presence through out the day for a variety of reasons but primarily because home education forms such a strong bond between most families and you get to know your child so much more deeply.

School has been quite enlightening to Ben and he has made some intriguing observations, some due to the fact he has never been a 'school boy' before and others because he is an observant person and has already a 'well trained mind'.

The students within the sixth form are most definitely more serious about their studies as they have chosen to be there rather than are obliged to attend school. Most of them are clever and astute and he has found most of the academic work simple to adjust to.

As Ben studied IGCSEs this has made the transition so much the easier as they are of a higher standard, more alike to AS level which he is taking now. This is evident, he says, as the work is not much harder and very similar questions arise from subjects like History and English.

The structure and order of the school day is appealing to Ben; it fits his personality. He even likes the bell which made me giggle when he said 'at the end of each lesson this fire alarm-type noise alerts us to change class!' Order and structure? Perhaps a monk in the making ? Perhaps not!

As for his Catholic Faith which is so very important to him, he says that personal views and beliefs at this age are far more respected and revered than in the younger, more vulnerable years. Not that this doesn't halt me from worrying greatly- there are all sorts of temptations and vices on offer (I presume!) but then he would face this in the world at some point anyway. It is an unavoidable truth that one has to battle against. He knows how different he is to others but this seems to have conveyed him as unique and interesting rather than outlandish  (although we may have to consider doing something about his lack of mobile phone! At 16 years old most boys have had a phone against their ears for at least three years or so!) and the invitation to have a Facebook is constant with people constantly asking why he doesn't have one?

There is a 'Connexions' at the school- the sly 'careers advice' which doubles as a secretive family planning clinic and so forth but he knows to make no contact with them. Their presence unnerves me though as does their trickery. (See Connexions website for more information, but they are very sinister and integrated within secondary schools.)

Most peers have been impressed that Ben was home educated and finds it natural to self teach himself- he told me that most of the students are finding it hard to come to terms with 'independent study' which is being drilled into them whereas this is how Ben learnt.

In hindsight I still feel we've made the right decision as I see Ben flourishing and enjoying his learning environment but home education and my strong beliefs have also given me the confidence to remove him straightaway should anything go amiss. I feel at peace because to teach A levels at home is a tall order and even though he would have probably achieved them, I still feel this first step into the world is essential for his future development.

We were given this beautiful prayer of St Fulgentius and Ben recites it daily in Latin to add efficacy;

Short Prayer of St Fulgentius, for Daily use by Students

I beseech Thee, my God, who art the very Truth, that what I know not of things I may wholesomely know Thou wilt teach me. That what I now of Truth Thou wilt keep me therein. That what I am mistaken in through human weakness, Thou wilt correct me. That in whatsoever truths I stumble, Thou will yet establish me. And from all things that are false or harmful, Thou wilt deliver me. Amen.

Rogo te, veritas, Deus meus, ut quaecumque salubriter scienda nescio, doceas me; in his quae vera novi, custodias me; in quibus ut homo fallor, corrigas me; in quibus veris titubo, confirmes me; et a falsis ac noxiis eripias me. Amen.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Latin; 'Every lesson in Latin is a lesson in Logic'

As Catholic home educators, Latin (and occasionally, Greek) are usually priorities for children to study and learn.
Latin is so fundamental to correct English grammar that it is helpful to learn from approximately 8years onwards as a solid foundation to a child's English language learning. Even if no official qualifications take place, it will remain a great asset to the child's formation and widen their vocabulary tenfold. This is why so many modern day curriculums base their philosophies within the 'classical' sphere.

Many home educators whether following the American curriculums who form their courses and materials upon the 'classical' subjects, or those studying for the UK exam system, will incorporate Latin, and Greek to follow, into their student's timetable.

There are numerous Latin courses, and depending upon the child and the parental knowledge of Latin, will depend on how far the child progresses.
If there is a desire to just become 'familiar' with the language there are courses both Catholic and secular which are quite simple to use and progress into more depth as the student learns.

For a Catholic Latin course many home educators enjoy 'Latina Christiana' however be aware this is Church Latin and different to the Latin found in the GCSE course!

Our 8year old son has recently begun this course knowing no Latin before, and is coming along nicely and  he enjoys learning a new language.
Of course, as mentioned previously, if it aids his English grammar/vocabulary and teaches him to view his work in a logical and ordered manner, this will be a great benefit in his future learning skills.

For a secular start in Latin many home educators use 'Minimus' ;

For more advanced study, and this will again depend upon the child's competence and background of Latin, 'Henle' is an excellent resource and used widely amongst Catholics;

Again, this is Church Latin, so one would need to be aware when then studying the GCSE Latin course.
It is comprehensive and popular and usually begun at around age 11/12yrs.

Other home educators,especially those considering the Latin GCSE, mostly use the Cambridge series who have been updated and improved over the past three or four years, but are not as in depth as texts like Henle;^top^home

This is a detailed and helpful website and there are text books available for A level Latin and Greek too.

My two older children both sat Latin GCSE in the summer; they did another text called 'Olim' which had been written by two Professors who were personal friends of their tutor (it concentrated finely on the grammar)  and they also used the Cambridge as this is what the GCSE calls for.  -All the examinations offered by OCR.

OCR board offers GCSE Latin and Greek. The standard is pretty high to attain an 'A' grade and there is an abundance of literature as well as historical type questions. - Help with Latin GCSE work.

As Catholic home educators it is a joy to see children learn and study Latin and a great shame it is not offered more widely here in England in schools should they want to go on to study it.
Some private schools offer Latin at A level but this is not affordable for many so children will miss out on this ancient and beautiful language.

Studying Latin at A level standard from home may well be one of the only choices - this is something we're having to consider for our daughter, however the costs mount up tremendously as at that level 4 to 5 hours of lessons are required per week!

The Open University also offer Latin courses which is a viable option for some;

Again, the costs involved may not be feasible...

Latin; the Alma Mater of all languages!

St Jerome, Patron of Latinists.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Educating older children

As we have a 16 yr old son, Ben, who has just entered the school system for the very first time, it has been interesting, and intriguing to hear of what other Catholic families have chosen for their teens too.
Every child is different and hence will require varied ways of learning and teaching so school most definitely won't be for everyone. I think it is a great leap of faith and prayed very fervently about whether this was God's will for Ben. Going into the 'world' is a staggering change, yet it is an essential one too and we felt it was what God wanted.

Ben has only completed three days of school (!) so it isn't clear yet whether he truly likes it, will enjoy the four AS subjects he's studying or whether the teaching standard is acceptable or not.
The whole debut into school has been emotionally wrought; it is definitely tough to 'let go' a little and hand his education over to strangers after being in control of everything he learns at home.

One has to suddenly be open to other people's opinions being thrust upon their child and ways of teaching or even the way in which they are spoken to in another environment away from the family, and don't start me on peer pressure, something we have all been avidly avoiding for so many years! I think it will take us all a while to become accustomed to this change. I have gone through all the natural anxieties (probably at an elevated level knowing myself!) ; Will he fall into the 'wrong crowd'? , what will they be discussing at break time? will he stand up for his beliefs if attacked? will he use his time diligently? will he go to the chip shop instead of eating his home made lunch? and finally, but one of the most important questions, will he actually learn anything worthwhile?

Our decision for Ben to go to sixth form is purely academic; he chose to study A levels and I feel unqualified to teach them, plus I have five other young children to home educate and nurture.
Ben did say to me it it isn't ideal but it is the best way he can foresee to attain the A levels he needs for his possible career in the RAF.

So, did he enjoy his first three days at school after being home educated for 11years? I would say; so far so good.
He will hopefully take what he needs and leave the rest, although he has admitted to strangely liking the bell which alerts him class is finished and to make haste to the next one...order and discipline are obviously suiting him which can never be a negative attribute!

It would be wonderful to hear where other older home educated children are going next? Boarding school, college, sixth share experiences!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

IGCSE (Sciences for one) are much more demanding than GCSEs

I do not think it can be accentuated enough that the IGCSEs are more rigorous than the GCSEs taught in most schools.
Apart from a few prestigious private schools, the majority of schools only offer GCSEs.

It is disappointing that such distinctively different courses can be regarded as equal by further education colleges, state schools (who were not granted the funding for them), some Universities and other areas of education.

Using science as an example; if one finds this subject a challenging one, then they can opt for the 'double award' GCSE in school instead of the more ambitious 'triple award'.

I came across this extremely informative article on the intensity of the IGCSE Sciences;

and it reaffirmed to me just how incomparable they are to the GCSE.

In hindsight I wish I had urged my son to not battle through these three exams, but to have been content with one science (he took IGCSE Biology a year early) and concentrated on the subjects he excelled in instead.

A friend and fellow home educator, Sam Martell, is devising the Double Award Science (and also the Triple Award) IGCSE course for home educated children.

 She explained to me it is not as intensive as sitting the three single IGCSEs and the Edexcel board only has two papers. This sounds more accessible (although still challenging) for the student who is keen to study the sciences but has no grand ideas for studying medicine!

For those who are dedicated towards a medical career, then the single IGCSEs would be a valuable prerequisite to further studying.

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.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Sciences - Physics

Physics, I have been advised, is usually considered the hardest of the three sciences, so for all those physicists out there, I apologise for stating Chemistry is!

However, as I have absolutely no scientific background to speak of, not even a single GCSE in any science (I attended a very kindly Dominican Convent school who put more emphasis on the arts which was fine by me!) I commend every one who sits the IGCSE sciences and passes!

The Physics IGCSE, like the other  two sciences, is a much more demanding course than the GCSE and one would require a solid background in the sciences before embarking on this course.

A helpful book  like this -  (' So you really want to learn science?' by Galore Park books)

This book is designed to teach children through to common entrance standard at 13years and it is comprehensive, clear and thorough. If I could 'do it all again' with my eldest son, Ben, I would have presented this book to him at age 11 and so by the time he reached 14yrs he would have been well equipped to begin the IGCSE sciences. This book, and there are others, covers all three sciences and will be of upmost help for the student who desires to take these rigorous exams.

There are also specific courses, designed and written by home educating Mother, Sam Martell, for all three sciences ;

The Physics is a new addition and follows the same format as her Biology and Chemistry. One can purchase the text book and have work marked by Sam.

Another idea is for Mother's to share their knowledge with each other. Here in Oxfordshire we have numerous Mothers who, as their children have grown older and are entering the whole exam world , have pooled together and formed small groups in certain subjects and led the children through an IGCSE course successfully. Currently I know of the sciences, Geography, History and English being studied in this way, so it is very promising indeed.

Both the C.I.E and Edexcel boards offer IGCSE Physics with three exams.

Lastly, this is an inspiring organisation -
Science Oxford brings science alive and offers visits, seminars, talks and has news of science fairs and festivals.

I'm off to read 'In search of Schrodinger's cat' by John Gribbin, being such a physics lover...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Novena for Catholic Home Educating Mothers

I thought you might like this beautiful novena for Catholic Home Educating Mothers;

It is so aesthetically pleasing too and a lovely prayer to print and keep.

With the GCSE results so close for many of our home educated children, let us entrust them all to the Most Holy Family that they will be successful and joyous in their educational achievements.

Most Holy Family, Keep our children ever in your prayers!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Sciences - Chemistry

For Catholic students wishing to study Chemistry either at IGCSE or A level it poses no problems morally!

Chemistry has always been regarded by the majority as the toughest science and most children who study it will have been studying basic Chemistry  for at least three years previously.

From personal experience (and not all positive!) children who wish to study the IGCSE Chemistry really should be very familiar with all the basic formulas and so on and this whole course is extremely rigorous and demands previous knowledge. It is also a course that needs time dedicated to it- at least a year. (It is a two year course anyway so completing it in one academic year is no mean feat!)

As Chemistry is a rather abstract subject it is useful to have various thought provoking programmes on hand as supplements to the course itself. The Khan Academy and Dr Brown's Lab      can provide animated and stimulating lessons on line which may make the science more real for the student.

Again, as with the other subjects, the GCSE requires course work and they are also far less demanding than the IGCSE. As I have mentioned numerous times already, the standard of the IGCSE sciences compared to that of the GCSE is really apparent. They demand more depth and call upon knowledge the student will have studied rather than just facts which are learnt and regurgitated.

The two main boards offering the Chemistry IGCSE are CIE and Edexcel. They consist of three separate exams; multiple choice, an intense theory paper (usually the arduous of the three!), and the alternative to practical paper which is as it sounds, a paper which students take if they're not in school and able to do practical tests. It presents a scientific experiment and the student must answer questions based on this.

A friend and fellow home educator has designed IGCSE courses for the three sciences. She writes;

' I have written distance learning courses to help home educators to study for Biology, Chemistry and Physics as single IGCSE subjects and also for the Double award Science IGCSE. All these courses are available for both the CIE and Edecxcel specifications. There is no practical examination necessary so they are perfectly accessable to private candidates.

 Do take a look at my website for more information or email me I am a home educating mum, of four myself, and took my BSc Hons degree with the Open University so I understand all about distance learning and studying at home.  '

Many home educators use Sam's courses with success. A list of the required books are given and the student's work is marked by Sam and corrected.

The C.I.E board offers IGCSE Chemistry;

The Edexcel board offers IGCSE Chemistry too;

A sample paper from C.I.E November 2010, not for the faint hearted!;

Chemistry is an absorbing subject yet I honestly believe children need good grounding in all three sciences before embarking on the IGCSE.

Not being a scientist in any shape or form myself  (English, Catechism and Art are my favourites) I especially welcome any wise words on this subject!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


Traditionally,  the Mathematics we are familiar with today either in our homes or in school was entirely different many years ago and was more commonly known as Arithmetic, which basically means the study and understanding of numbers- the operations of subtraction, addition, multiplication and division.

We do seem to have lost the whole reasoning behind why we are studying Mathematics and this can make for much confusion for the student. When one understands why they are doing something then they will make sense of it more quickly and a meaning will be given to it.

Mathematics today seems quite broken- there is no obvious explanation to the child as to why they are learning all these theories or problems. We no longer see the student having to prove anything. Most students will not be able to form proofs. Ancient Arithmetic was taught by the student needing to supply a proof to their work, and they would then be able to understand why they were being taught this theory and how to apply it. A proof is 'a demonstration that if some fundamental statements are assumed to be true, then some mathematical statement is necessarily true.' It must show a statement to be always true, omitting anything which is otherwise.

Mathematics GCSE is worlds apart from this old form of Arithmetic. A student who has studied Arithmetic in a classical form (for example that of the 'Classical Liberal Arts Academy'  (
will be leaps ahead in their understanding of Mathematics as a whole. Is a combination of these two forms of teaching Mathematics possible? (An interesting question and one I hope to find out. Our 13yr old son is currently studying the CLAA Arithmetic, and along  with this is also beginning Maths GCSE. I suspect, in time, the realisation of what he has learnt in the classical approach will make more sense, and he will find it easier to apply himself to the task in hand.) Well, this is the aspiration!

The GCSE requires the student to learn many different mathematical theories and be able to answer a range of questions based on algebra, data handling, statistics, geometry, trigonometry, and numeracy.

As Maths GCSE requires no coursework one can sit this exam easily as a home educator, choosing either the higher or foundation levels.
I won't mention the modular Mathematics as this is to be phased out in 2012, but it is a few, shorter style exams which the student takes through out the two years. They are deemed to be helpful if the student struggles with an aspect of the course as they are only concentrating on one section at a time but research has shown too much time is being  wasted on swotting for the examinations and then re-sits (if needed) than any in depth, continued teaching. A good article on the discontinuation of modular exams is here;

The IGCSE is more rigourous and demanding as it includes calculus which doesn't appear until A level  usually, and prepares the student more thoroughly should they want to go on and do Further Mathematics and then A level. It would definitely be more advisable if a student is very competent and efficient on Mathematics to opt for the IGCSE instead.

However, the higher tier GCSE Maths still includes some laborious questions and an A or even a B in this subject will allow the student to sit it for A level. (Some schools/colleges do prefer an A or A* in this subject as the leap is particularly noticeable between GCSE and AS level).

Most of the boards offer GCSE  and IGCSE Maths; Edexcel is probably the most extensively used, in schools and out, AQA is the other one.

If one has a child who just needs a pass (C grade) at Mathematics (nearly every job at an elementary level will require a Maths GCSE pass) they could opt for the foundation level GCSE where the highest mark they can obtain will be a C but the standard will be easier.

I came across this informative article on Maths qualifications;

Many home educators use a variety of helpful sites for Mathematics. Some are listed on the right hand side in the 'resources' link, but one very popular and much used site is 'Conquer Maths';

They even have a home school discount.

'Mathswatch' is also highly regarded;      and one can buy a disc or down load the lessons.

It is believed Mathematics today has become simpler. I still view the higher tier GCSE and certainly the IGCSE Maths as important qualifications in the UK to achieve and they will be of great benefit for our students when applying for (any) University, college or a job of any description.

Has Mathematics become easier? I'd love to hear your opinions and thoughts on this subject.

Friday, 3 August 2012

More IGCSEs are being studied in schools.

With great applause I post an article regarding the usage of IGCSEs in schools;

I hope (finally) teachers and the higher authorities are noting how poor the standard of some GCSEs are and the need for a more academic and pressing qualification like that of the IGCSE.

Ironically the GCSEs were only introduced as the Government believed children were failing the O levels because they were 'too hard'. Now these qualifications have been made bereft of any real prestige they are realising the great effect this has had on our society as a whole. Children are presenting themselves at University unable to spell simple words as 'mischief' or know the difference between 'their' and 'there'. Calculus was removed completely from the GCSE Maths syllabus because it was deemed as 'too demanding'. It appears at A level and the discrepancy between the GCSE and first year A level is so extensive many students cannot keep up. (More on Mathematics in a future post.)

IGCSEs are much more alike to the old O levels (these are still available anyway for our home educated children at the CIE board) and present a more in depth level of knowledge. Children can if they so choose, take longer to study them, are quite detailed and  reasonably intellectual.

One of the main obstacles with the IGCSEs currently for the home educated child are they are not recognised as more advanced than the GCSE. Once they are more widely used and teachers become aware of the differences, schools and colleges will hopefully regard them as the more noteworthy.

For example- my son Ben has a conditional place at a Grammar school for sixth form. In this particular school the student needs a certain amount of points in order to gain their place to study A levels.
They have their own personal point system, with, for example, an A* being worth 58 points and so on (or so down!).

They make no reference to the ample difference in standard of the GCSE and the IGCSEs. This places Ben at a great disadvantage as not only has he not been 'spoon fed' all the relevant work, he has taken a harder set of exams.

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has been making noises about changing the GCSEs in the UK in a hope to return to a more valued O level type of examination.

What do you think of this?
Do you suppose this to be a sensible idea?

Monday, 30 July 2012

English Literature

English Literature; a highly favoured subject and one that many Catholic Home educators will enjoy.

In many Catholic homes one will find a treasury of well loved, classic and cherished books and many a Catholic child will grow up remembering books being read out loud and sitting in a quite corner enjoying an honoured favourite.

In our home we have a wide range of books ranging from old fashioned classics to non-fiction, all varied and different but censored to be morally acceptable so a child can choose anything from a shelf and sit down and enjoy.

Being well read is a worthy prerequisite for any English course, especially the IGCSE in Literature. If one has read widely and enjoyed different genres and styles they should have little problem with these courses.

From our own experience we have, again used the CIE board for English Literature.

 Catholic families will be glad to find Shakespeare still available for their child to study - well known classics such as 'Julius Caesar' or 'The Tempest'  or 'The importance of being earnest' by Wilde. There is poetry too, last year was Alfred Lord Tennyson or a more modern option 'Songs for ourselves'. In 2014 they have included the poetry of Thomas Hardy.

A note regarding Shakespeare- whilst it is a wonderful experience for many children to hear and read the jewels which are Shakespeare some will find it challenging to study alone and not in a group setting or just plain difficult. My son decided not to opt for the Shakespeare choice last year because he preferred to see it performed live and felt he benefited more greatly from this than from studying it laboriously and not gaining much thrill from it.

Instead it can be beneficial to read stories like 'Tales from Shakespeare' by Lamb (my children read this with me at  10yrs);

And try and see the plays performed live. This brings such a realism to the child and Shakespeare will linger for a long while in their minds.

I could not recommend 'The Young Shakespeare Company' enough ;

Our secular home education group employed them to do a whole workshop on 'The Tempest' with a large group of children many years ago now and they still talk about it and have vivid memories of being part of such a sensational play!

Shakespeare plays are often performed in open air theatres and these can also be very attractive to children.

Returning to the Literature syllabus- there is not much which is morally objectionable and one is able to find classical and deep literature.

In the Edexcel board they offer Austen's 'Pride and prejudice' which is exceptionally popular in my household!

Ben, who is 15yrs, sat his English Literature in the summer. He chose three texts- 'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte, 'Journey's End' by R.C Sheriff and selected poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Instead of choosing more books he opted for the unseen paper so he had to answer on a piece of literature he had not previously seen.

English Literature is definitely a viable option for the Catholic home educator. Do allow a maturity of mind however, I certainly would not conceive of my children sitting it before 15/16yrs old as they need to master how to pen a clear essay with critique, analytical skills and argument and I think this comes from experience and a more developed mind. (and lots of practice!)

What are your views on this subject? Should all children study Shakespeare?

Saturday, 28 July 2012

English Language Post continued!

Following on from the initial English Language post I feel I should clarify a couple of points, as well as add some extra information in regards to the CIE course.

From a personal point of view we were (and are) very happy with the CIE board. They are renowned, apparently, for enjoying original  and unique exam papers and a student's personal points of view which is quite a rarity.

They don't seem to have anything too risque in their syllabus and the content is modern but not trashy. Having read through  many past exam papers I have not yet to date found anything I would consider immoral.

Regarding the Catherine Mooney courses. I am not endorsing them here as I have no experience of them personally. However many home educators have used Catherine's two courses and she has a very high pass rate and is supportive.

When I said English Language is usually the 'first port of call',  that is to say most people regard English and Mathematics as the 'essentials' and will opt for these exams first so the child has some form of qualification.

What I did not mean to insinuate is that English is an 'easy' option and that all home educated children should choose this first. (Just in case any one thought this was being proclaimed!).

English, like all subjects, can be extremely challenging to some children. Many children despise writing or may have significant trouble with it and will prefer subjects like Mathematics or the sciences. If this is the case then it would be wise to take English at a later date and concentrate on the subjects the child enjoys more.  Others have a natural inclination to write; enjoying creative writing stories and poetry composition from a very young age. These children will, naturally, have less trouble with the IGCSE when they come to take it.

Our son Ben who has already taken the CIE IGCSE English Language at 14yrs just loves English. As it is his strongest subject and something he enjoys for 'pleasure' we felt he was able to take the exam early and first. Of course had he not been keen, or an avid writer, I would have held back  as I do believe English Language requires a maturity on behalf of the student. This applies to English Literature even more. (A post on this will follow but many HErs take the Literature exam later as the child will need to write essays {three if doing the CIE board} and have an understanding of how to answer an essay style question.)

In Ben's case he took the Literature this summer at 15yrs and felt he was better equipped to answer these style questions than he would have been the year previously.

A very helpful and informative yahoo group which many Catholic Home Educators are on (but it is secular ) is ;

I am sorry this address has only appeared now- I am still working out how to add links, answer comments and post information ! Please bear with me as I learn the art of blogging and keep sending in comments and advice! Thank you so much for all the kind support shown already, and God Bless!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

English Language

English Language is a sensible starting point for the IGCSEs as one usually needs this qualification when seeking employment and not just to enter Further education.

The IGCSE qualification is again superior to the GCSE and many home educators opt for this as there is no coursework required and is exam based only. This does mean though that it all depends upon those two exams!

English Language has undoubtedly been demeaned over the past years in England. It is alarming how little grammar children are taught in school (if any formal grammar nowadays) and there is little requirement for grammatical knowledge in the exam although well written, grammatically correct work will be acclaimed.

Many Catholics will teach their children Latin which will help them immensely with their English. In past ages English was taught via Latin and the grammar and form the pupil received was of a much superior quality. Research shows clearly that children with a knowledge of Latin will be better spellers, be more grammatically competent and hold a wider range of vocabulary. As one of my children proclaimed the other day, Latin is the spine to the English language!
Sadly gone are the days when schools teach English through Latin so the advantage to having this will be significant.

The C.I.E board offers English Language IGCSE ;

The board is quite helpful with appropriate books to use;

We used this board for my son's English Language IGCSE last year. We did not find anything morally objectionable with the materials either which was pleasing. The pieces of work they use are not highly literary but they are acceptable and the student is marked on their writing skills, form, analytical skills and creative writing ability.

Another board, Edexcel, also offer the IGCSE;

This is similar to CIE however there is a poetry component in it too.

Both these boards offer the extended or core options. Extended is harder and one can gain between an A*-E grades and core allows the student to attain a C and below grades.

A Home educating Mother, Catherine Mooney, runs a tutoring course for both English Language and Literature. These have proved very popular to some home educators and she will mark assignments and offer alot of support. It is ideal for a child who is less confident with English although it costs around £200 per subject.

Other long distance sites like- also offer varied subjects in IGCSE level but having no experience of them I cannot expand.

Please do write in with any experience you have with English GCSE or IGCSE exams from home.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Keeping Education Catholic

As a first post I thought it might be helpful to look at the education system and how we, as Catholic Home Educating families, can 'survive' it. This blog is dedicated to supporting those who may choose or have chosen to follow the UK system instead of an alternative one (namely a Catholic curriulum which are mostly American).

I always envisaged when my children arrived at the the age to sit exams that they would only take the bare minimum and continue with their other, more important and essential, education. A kind of 'two-tier' education which was very clear within my mind but has been harder to provide for my eldest son.

From the little experience I do have as a Catholic Home Educator trying to work the system I would say it is possible to achieve IGCSEs and continue with extra courses such as Classics, Greek, Catechism, Theology. However this seems only truly attainable when one has plotted how many exams the child can take on board at once with the extra work.

My (humble) advice would be to not take more than four IGCSEs at one sitting (especially if you are considering the extra, more important subjects).  Home educated children nearly always study the courses in far less time than is usual. A typical IGCSE course is two years long but many HE children are finished in three months! Of course this is not really ideal as the subject will not be absorbed as deeply as one would desire and they certainly will not become masters of that subject. It is much more pressuring to take on two year's worth of study in a matter of a few months. 

 Why are we even contemplating the UK system? I think one has to come to the agreement that all these exams are stepping stones to further education and give the child some sort of grounding in a particular subject that they can then use to achieve other goals. Most parents would desire their children to love to learn, to master certain subjects and to be taught to think, analyse, argue and discuss for themselves. I would say this is the crux of true education and one which cannot be found within our schools or doing a handful of exams at home. Therefore one has to have in mind the reason why they're taking these exams and the benefit to the child. 

I hope this is of some help towards clarifying why some choose the IGCSE route. It is possible to sit some very traditional subjects, such as Latin (one can choose the Literature and the language sections), Greek, Mathematics, English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy. 

I'd love to hear of any one else's experiences with juggling exams and other courses...please send in lots of comments and discussion!