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! 


  1. I think this post has some important things to say to UK home-educators who may feel they have only two options for secondary school: either to abandon the UK system altogether on the basis that there is no specifically Catholic education available and that the education offered by GCSEs is 'rubbish'; or, to opt for GCSEs and simply have to give up the idea of a Catholic education because at the end of the day they feel their children need some home-grown qualifications.

    What you're pointing at here is a via media between the two extremes: a scheme, in other words, to maintain a solid Catholic, academic education throughout the secondary years whilst at the same time allowing a child to gain enough UK qualifications to put him or her on a similar footing to 'schooled' peers when it comes to higher education or employment opportunities. The key to this, as you say, is to view the GCSEs as a secondary, almost supplementary element in a much broader educational programme, as, essentially, 'tickets' to the wider world rather than an education in themselves.

    Hopefully by sharing ideas on this blog, we'll be able to work out more fully how this approach might work in practice.

    Thanks for setting it up!

  2. Thank you for this blog. I think it will be helpful.
    We found that our 6th form wanted 5 GCSEs to allow you to study A levels. As my daughter had gcse English lit but not language, they wanted her to take that alongside A levels. When looking at Universities we found that Maths and English language is asked for and some want a modern foreign language, although we found that you could have evidence that wasn't gcse for that.
    University entrance is a whole topic in itself but in some ways working back from that UCAS form may help us decide how to organise earlier qualifications.

  3. Well done, Amanda! Nice blog.

  4. PS, just to say the long comment above was written by me and not my husband, but thankfully now I've figured out how to attach my own name instead, so he will not be implicated!

  5. Thank you Rachel for your reply. It is very interesting to know what some colleges require so we can arm our children with the correct subjects without all the 'twaddle'!
    Originally we were set for Ben (our eldest) to take the bare minimum with the hope that the fewer he took, the higher the grades he would attain. It hasn't ended up with this though, and one of the schools he has a conditional place for sixth form asks for a certain amount of points in order to gain a place. Much pressue on the child! We worked it out to be equal to eight B grades so if one only had six it would be much harder.

    I think the main problem currently with the schools (should a child desire to go into sixth form and then Further Education) is the difference between the IGCSEs and the GCSEs and the fact that the state schools do not take this into consideration at all.

  6. Does one need to take any formal exams? Can my child be a very good dustman? An exceptional comedian? An awesome char woman? What about vocational qualifications? What about starting work as a dishwasher and working your way up to CEO?
    Do many of our needs for our children depend on our social class? What use is a degree if you are shelf stacking in Tesco, and struggling to pay off a huge student debt? Are you any better off than the lad who started moving boxes about age 16, and has no debt, and knows what he is doing?
    What about adult education? (i.e. do you have to get certain qualifications at a certain age?)
    Do we have to be academic to be good,Holy Catholics? Can we garden and paint and daydream and be Holy?

    1. I believe any and all of these things are possible if that is what the child yearns. One doesn't have to take any formal exams at all. They could bypass the whole exam system in their teen years and apply to Uni or college as a mature student.
      We do seem to be obsessed with qualifications (and then a good job at the end of years of strife) in this country and having read 'Leisure; the basis of culture' by Josef Pieper was a real eye opener into the whole world of 'intellectual' work and how it overtakes one's mind to not allow them to think of the ultimately more higher and important aspects of life. So, a fabulous char woman who is day dreaming about God and growing in holiness sounds like a perfect job!

    2. Dear mummymayhem,
      You asked a lot of questions! First, I think Amanda would be the first to say that no-one NEEDS to take any formal exams- this blog is simply here to help those who choose to (and many do) - no-one is forced to follow the advice!
      Secondly, of course no-one has to academic to be a good Catholic! I think (I hope) that we are all very careful to instil in our children the essential truth that what matters in life is getting to heaven.
      If any of my children were called by God to garden, paint, daydream (or all three at once!!), I'd be over the moon about it as long as they really felt that was their calling, and I couldn't give two hoots if they had a bunch of GCSEs if they didn't want or need them.
      But I feel sure that not all my children will be thus called, and even that some, being able and intelligent, may need to pursue further study, or professional qualifications in order to fulfil their vocations (doctor? Lawyer? economist? priest?)and if GCSEs/A levels are deemed by the system to be a necessary part of that, then I have no objection to getting on with them (hopefully as quickly and painlessly as possible, which is where this blog comes in ;-)

      I hope my kids, and yours, will be good, exceptional, awesome people whatever they do, GCSEs or not, and that they and we will all manage the important bit - being good Catholics and, God willing, one day gaining heaven.

    3. PS, thinking this over more, I thought it important to add that GCSEs are not only useful for children aiming for Uni/professions. It's not unknown for a UK child with a fine US style education to have trouble getting a job stacking shelves in Tesco's. We have a wonderful tick the box system here - somehow, being able to tick the 'Yes I have GCSE maths and English' convinces employers that a person is competent; unfairly, the lack of a tick makes them think otherwise.

      I don't know if I'm typical or unusual in viewing GCSEs simply as a piece of paper to help a kid do what he/she wants to do. To me, the actual educational/academic worth of the thing is almost irrelevant...well, at least it certainly isn't the most important factor in choosing to get a few under one's proverbial belt.

  7. Amanda,
    Are you planning to only put links which are relevant to GCSE level study, or more general stuff? I was just thinking of any good ones to recommend...I suppose the next question is, is the blog going to be primarily about GCSEs or about Catholic home-ed in general? I should have asked you that already, I know :-)

    1. Hi Kathryn,

      The blog is primarily for Catholic HE in the UK so anything linked to this is great! I also would like to have links/resources for A levels and FE too. Any relevant links would be gratefully accepted. I will try and order them in a more manageable way; probably in subject etc. I'm still working out how to view comments!LOL

  8. Thanks for organising this Amanda. I feel like we are years and years away from exams but time has a habit of passing far more suddenly than seems reasonable.

    1. Lucy, it goes SO quickly. I'm looking at my 17 year old holding my 2 year old and thinking, 'How the heck did that happen?!' LOL
      We put our heads in the sand over post 14 education and ended up in a panic. NOT recommended. We thought school education/GCSEs were rubbish so we wanted to avoid them for as long as possible. It's only after going through the process we've been able to, if you like, rationalise and contextualise the 'schooly' part. IMHO, it has a place, a small part to play, and I hope to be better prepared next time!

    2. I think this is a very valid point Kathryn. It does seem like years away when you have very young children and then it suddenly creeps up behind you and every one else is busy studying for these exams. I do feel (confessing here!) very pressurised by what is happening around me and was perturbed and sad I felt like this but I did. One ends up thinking 'if he/she is taking all these exams what about my child, what will they do?' etc! I only followed the exam route because Ben chose to and because they are a means to an end. However planning is also rather difficult as they are forever changing these exams, tweaking the courses, removing course work, adding controlled assessment etc. Perhaps we will feel more confident when it comes to Samuel and Edmund (our near teens!) although I haven't a choice as Samuel refuses to sit IGCSEs nor go to University!