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?