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!


  1. I have all this to come! I am so proud of the many friends I have whose children have done IGCSE's in the past few years. They all seem to work really hard and are coming out with super grades. It's an exciting thought and something I look forwards to at some point in the future. xx

  2. It is a very difficult decision. I put two children through a couple of IGCSEs and then my dd did Open University.

    However, the tick box appraoch in Unis and colleges doesn't take the education of the child into consideration. They must tick the right boxes or they wont get in.

    This leaves us in the difficult position of needing to know in advance what the children will be doing so we put them through the correct exams to tick the correct boxes.

    I had hoped that as the American Univerity system is so much better - taking homeschooled grads with portfolios - that we would follow suite over here. But so far, this doesn't seem to be the case. Oxford Uni may be an acception - but they have an entrance exam.

    It's very expensive to put children through IGCSEs. I don't envy parents with hardly any income getting through the hoops. It took me a long time to pay off the debt of the children's exams.

    Meanwhile some parents and children are choosing to do distance learning highschool diplomas with St. Thomas Aquinas Homeschool or Seton.

    I am watching those diplomas with interest for the next lot of my children.
    I would want to know how many accrediated homeschool Highschool Dips are useful this side of the pond.