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.


  1. My daughter has just sat an exam only edexcel English G.C.S.E.
    It was offered by our local home ed group that we already attend. I just bought the text book. She had a few lessons with some students, but the exam looked at skills that my daughter already uses-like essay writing, analytical skills etc. No cramming going on here. She gets the grade she gets. We found it an easy way of getting a GCSE. She did Maths the same way. She probably won't do as well as she hates maths. She sat the exam as it was offered for free, and we felt the exam would be good practice for her. She can resit for free. She is only 15, so it is not a rush.

  2. Small home ed groups studying through a course are great ways to achieve these exams. We also have a growth of home ed Mams offering various subjects (English Language, Geography, Physics, Chemistry) to a small group of children. It seems to be quite successful and financially affordable as tutors are so expensive should the student require them.

  3. First of all thank you very much for this blog, which will provide much valuable support for Catholic home educators in the UK I'm sure.

    My first comment is a general one, not specifically related to English. I think that as well as this blog, people would do well to belong to the Home Ed exams list in the uk. The address to subscribe is:

    Although obviously this group doesn't have a Catholic focus it really is a mine of useful information on the subject of exams in the UK.

    As far as specific comments about English go:

    1) While I would agree that English is an obvious place to start, because it (along with maths) is probably the core qualification required for further study, I would disagree about starting with an English exam as being obvious. The general advice that I have picked up from a variety of sources is that writing at (I)GCSE level benefits from a level of maturity which comes with age and so, unless your child is especially mature for their age it may well not be the best exam to take first (assuming that they are going to take exams in stages).

    2) Whenever anyone asks about which course to choose for a subject on the HE exams list the first response is almost always "find out which courses you can actually sit the exam for in your area". Once you know which courses are possible then you can start worrying about which is the best fit for your child (if you are lucky enough to have a choice).

    3) Feeling that English was well outside my area of expertise (I'm an ex-science teacher and current science examiner at GCSE) I felt that I needed to pay for tuition for my daughter in English. As parents we all know our subject strengths and weaknesses and I'm sure that I'm no different from anyone else in wanting to ensure that my weaknesses don't disadvantage my children. That said, after 15 months and a lot of money for tutoring I'm now quite convinced that I can do a jolly reasonable job of supporting my daughter in English study and I furthermore I have some reservations in recommending our tutor, Catherine Mooney to anyone. This is tricky as technically my daughter is still studying with her and while I will give honest feedback to her when we finish I'm not in a position to do that now. However it pains me to see her name mentioned in the first breath of English tutoring provision on the HE exmas list, where she is a member, and where I think it is difficult to voice anything other than fulsome praise for her courses. Indeed I acknowledge that she has had great success and has been hugely popular with a good number of families but I wonder if our experience (tardiness in returning assignments and lack of any depth to comments on them) is a sign that she is a victim of her own success and has now got too many students?

    There is now at least one other home educating parent who is offering English tuition and she is

    Dorothy Murphy can be contacted at:

    I stress that I do not know Dorothy personally and I have no direct experience of her work as a tutor - perhaps someone else does?

    I do know that she runs groups for IGCSE English in South Bucks and offers a marking service for past papers too. she also runs a yahoo group for parents to discuss all matters relating to the teaching of English for Home educators. Here is how to subscribe

    Amanda, since you mentioned Catherine in your original post perhaps you might also make it clear whether you are personally endorsing her work from experience or menitoned her details as she was the only home ed parent tutor you are aware of.

    Oh dear this is turning into a long comment. I did want to say a little about our experience of Edexcel and CIE but perhaps I'll do that in another comment.

    1. Thank you for your interesting comments. I have known Dorothy (Murphy) for many years and she is a wonderful person. Being a home educating Mam herself she has experience and knowledge and I hear her group is flourishing.
      I have answered your question(s) in the latest post 'English Language continued', but just to say thank you for your personal opinion regarding Catherine Mooney tutoring. It is invaluable for people to hear other's personal experiences with courses.
      God bless!

  4. I did just want to make some personal observations about the two IGCSE English language courses on offer from Edexcel and CIE.

    First I should explain that our daughter is bright, articulate, well read, able to express herself coherently in English BUT struggles enormously with creative writing and in particular any writing that is personal. Against this background I longed for a good old fashioned 'O' level that tests your English comprehension and plenty of choice in essay titles so that you can usually find something that you can write reasonably about.

    Believing that Edexcel was the only option that we had when we started studying for IGCSE we got going with the course. My daughter did not really like much of the anthology (and neither did I). It's skewed towards very modern writing and well I think uninspiring is probably how I'd describe it. We also didn't like the fact that the main essay in an Edexcel exam had no choice of title and often (looking at past papers) seemed to be focussed on what I can only describe as "teen culture" something which is alien to my teenage daughter.

    When I was beginning to despair of ever being ready to take the exam providence struck and I discovered that we would be able to sit CIE exams after all and so I investigated the CIE IGCSE. For us it has some big advantages, most notably that there is a choice of 6 essay titles on every exam (always 2 descriptive, 2 discursive and 2 narrative). Immediately this opens up the possibility of finding something that she can manage for my daughter.

    We have now bought the Cambridge IGCSE English Coursebook and I can thoroughly recommend that as an easy to follow programme of study. Overall the CIE exam has much less of a "teen culture" feel to it and moreover it tends to have a more international flavour to it which, it seems to me, favours a slightly more traditional approach to English.

    I would stress that these are just our observations and I would be the first to say that my daughter is far from the typical student. I would also stress that we haven't finished studying English yet - I do look forward to that day though!

    anyway, if my experience helps someone avoid making all the mistakes along the way that we have made, especially the financial ones, then it is worth posting here.

    1. Ditto here. After starting out with Edexcel IGCSE with Mrs Mooney, we changed to GCSE as the local school helped out, but next time we will go with CIE - much less 'modern and trendy' as you say. GCSE is pretty dreadful and I would not even let my son use the exam board textbook which the school gave me - it was trashy, and totally immoral in parts.
      Thank goodness IGCSEs are an option for us home-edders! They are a much better standard.

    2. Lovely post - it is very honest and informative, thank you.

      The CIE board (for English anyway) is by far preferred by us too. It is both straightforward and concentrates on the skill of the writer and also does not have the whole 'teen culture' aspect to it as you state.

      With the creative writing paper one can choose between argumentative, description or composition and this allows a wide range of choice.

      My son Ben had decided before even seeing the questions that he would be writing a story! Yet a student who has a particular flair for descriptive pieces could do very well with the descriptive questions. This year one of the descriptive questions was 'Describe an eclipse'.

  5. Just to add to the thread re Catherine Mooney - English IS my thing, BUT after I read a few exam papers I felt that I must be missing something and I was worried that being good at writing might not be enough - the dreaded 'exam technique' reared its ugly head!! So, I did sign up for Catherine's course. Overall, I was a little disappointed. This was a couple of years ago and she had fewer pupils so I think we did OK with speed of returned assignments and quality of comments. I suppose in the end I felt that, after all, there was no secret and you did just need to be able to write, and that this was something we already had sorted :-)
    For us personally, we did gain something from her, which was that she was MUCH more fulsome in her praise of my son's work and gave him much higher grades than I would have turned out that this gave him quite a boost and he grew in confidence (so I learned something too ;-). In the event, we changed to GCSE and he gained an A*, went on to study A level English and now spends most of his free time writing.
    So, Catherine IS supportive and encouraging, BUT £200 is a lot for what the course entails, and you are right, it is impossible to be critical on the exams list. I think it's good that she offers the service, I think you just need to really feel that you need it to get the benefit.