Wednesday, 6 November 2013

In loving memory of Michelle.

Even though I am going to find this a painful post to write, I would like the world to know, or at least, our small home schooled community, what a legacy Michelle Scott has left behind.

Michelle was a special fiend of mine. I will always regret never having met her in real life but it was not to be. We 'met' in rather amusing circumstances, on the 'Hebrew Catholic Association' forum. I've never been quite sure as to why Michelle hung out there (or myself actually!) and for a long while I naively presumed she lived in Birmingham, Alabama, but when the penny dropped that she actually lived in Birmingham, UK, I wrote to her privately and ever since then we corresponded every two weeks or so for many years.

We shared much- chronic, debilitating illnesses and the passion to home educate our six children, being committed Catholics and actively pro life. Many an hour was spent discussing and inventing ways to educate children from the sofa and on a budget, plus we were extremely interested in different philosophies, our shared passion being the Montessori method, about which we enjoyed swapping ideas, materials and amusing stories.

Michelle ran a very well read and admired blog, 'Thinking Love, No Twaddle' (this originates from the Christian educator, Charlotte Mason, whose methods Michelle followed and very much liked).
Every blog post was beautifully and eloquently written- what a gift God gave Michelle!

But what was so incredible was that Michelle achieved *all* this whilst suffering so much and for so long. For 11 or so years she battled with various illness, one of them a serious heart condition. I was always in awe of all she achieved and would often read through some of her notes or lessons and feel inspired and encouraged.

Her resolve never gave in- she educated her children to cook, create, love and respect. She was a truly devoted Mam, wife and fellow home schooler and to say that I will miss her is a tremendous understatement.

Here are just a few of her impressive and wonderful blog posts. Please read some of her blog and enjoy it as this is what she would have wanted. May her legacy live on!

 - Michelle's love for the Montessori method shines through.
- Making Arcimedes come alive for the children.
- Living with a chronic illness and home schooling.

Michelle also wrote lessons for young children:    - Truly a heroine for Catholic home educating Mams!

Michelle passed away on Tuesday, October 22nd and her funeral is on 15th November. Please keep her in your prayers, especially during this month of the most Holy Souls.

Réquiem ætérnam dona eis Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat eis. Requiéscant in pace. Amen.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Curriculums V Do it Yourself

The long summer break is over and Michelmas term has begun (when near Oxford...!) and most children, home educated or schooled, are back to lessons and timetables.

A question close to my heart, which I am often asking myself, is whether following a curriculum, like the Catholic American courses, would be easier/simpler/ more beneficial than making it up as we go along...Many long hours have been spent with a dear friend debating and discussing this question. So far we have both held off from using any bought curriculas and  prefer to choose our own books, often spending hours writing lessons for children of varying ages, and then of course comes the laborious task of (finally!) marking these lessons...(if they can be found!)
A sacrifice it is..and there are times I can certainly clearly see and feel it to be the best way for our family, yet it is an arduous way of 'teaching' and one wonders about the (vast?) gaps in the children's education.

For me I felt it was imperative to follow the British system, after all we do live in England and it would  ideally make it simpler for the children to carry onto further education if this is what they sought, and to allow them to get used to the examination system. Sitting exams is no easy feat. My small amount of experience has shown me to never be too presumptuous! Children often can surprise you...a child may be claiming A grades in all their subjects yet suddenly fall to bits in an exam and come out with a C. This, of course, is demoralising although also something to learn from. Yet the English system does prepare them for later exams, like A levels and University, or even exams they may need to sit in places of work.

Honestly speaking I always liked the idea of being free to choose exactly what my children learn (after all isn't this one of the main reasons for home education?) - from what literature they read (thank God we never have to worry about our daughters bringing home Jacqueline Wilson books from the school library!) to which Maths course best suited them. I researched so many educational books  and still find myself today opening a long awaited package only to feel great disappointment as it wasn't quite what I was expecting. And then there are times one finds a jewel of a book which becomes a firm favourite and is handed down from child to child.

The American curriculas (Kolbe Academy {my favourite}, Seton, Our Lady of Victory) are all immensely sound and Catholic.  One can feel completely at ease, knowing their child will only ever be exposed to truly Catholic books and not only that; there are lesson plans, teachers at the end of the phone and  even someone to mark their lessons, advise and help! All for a price, of course, but many parents feel justified in this and rightly so. I can see the attraction (after doing it alone for the eldest children it is now becoming even more of a pull  for my two younger sons!) yet something holds me back. (That cherished book, the freedom of choice in what they learn, the cost?)

It would definitely make my life easier, and possibly some day we may buy a course or curriculum and give it a try, but for now I rather like making my own decisions, searching for a special book...(just recently my aforementioned dear friend showed me her latest find - a beautiful English book of prose and poetry which to me was like being shown a precious jewel (but affordable!) and I feel such excitement knowing it is in the post!) Collecting different books from various places and mixing and matching is my idea of  enjoyment! Designing a timetable for my 14yr old son has, so far, been quite illuminating. He's following three IGCSE courses too, but this time I am trying to read along with him and write him instructions. It still means using the faithful answer books (I would be lost without Maths and science answer books ; Deo Gratias for them!) and much time creating timetables but I feel it is a worthwhile usage of time. If all else fails, it's off to Kolbe Academy for him!

As with which course to choose, whether to go to University or sixth form, all our children are different and unique and each precious one will require different means and ways of learning and educating. Whether it is a hand written comprehension on 'Beowulf' or a classics lesson from Kolbe, each way has it's advantages for our children- their souls are safe and they are living within the Domestic Church.   - Kolbe Academy   -  Our Lady of Victory  - Seton Home Study  - Fisher More Academy - This was previously known as Regina Coeli and has now been taken over and sounds exceptionally exciting..I will write a post on this college very soon. Ss Thomas More and John Fisher, Orate Pro Nobis!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Are Home Educated children at a disadvantage in the exam arena?

I've been brooding upon this question for a while now.

Academically it makes perfect sense to opt, if one can, for the IGCSEs- they are undoubtedly more rigorous and demanding than the GCSEs.
For many home educators there is no other option- the IGCSEs do not require course work (or controlled assessment) and so they are solely exam based. In some areas it is possible to study GCSEs and then arrange for a controlled assessment at an exam centre but they are quite a rarity and usually the simplest choice is to turn to the IGCSE route...

For a majority of home educators then, as they are more in depth, a student will often end up sitting slightly less of these exams than had they done  GCSEs. Or it could be the fact that at school so many of the GCSEs are modular (in parts) that they tend to squeeze in as many subjects as possible. It is not unusual for schooled children to attain 12 or even up to 14 GCSEs. (!)
(It does make one wonder why though when some of these 'exams' are in questionable subjects and how useful and valuable they will be in their future lives?)

Still, if there are schooled children applying to colleges/Unis with 12+ GCSES how do the home educated children fare when they leave home ed with 6/7/8 IGCSEs? Will this place them at a disadvantage?
Plus, how does a parent deal with a child who may not manage with sitting exams as well as others? This may place the child at a sore disadvantage and one can then see how much easier really the whole school system is with it's modular exams (doing it in parts) and continuous cycle of re-sits...or re-writing assessments...

And, I am now contemplating whether these institutions actually recognise the superior quality of the IGCSEs, and do they even care? Will the home educated student stand a better chance with fewer IGCSEs against multiple GCSEs? Do they take this into account and acknowledge that these courses were harder ?

The other question which has been playing on my mind is the whole exam 'experience'.

Chatting to a dear friend the other day, she was explaining how many exams and tests her children have been placed through being at school. She claimed one of the only positive aspects of school was that it does prepare the student for exams. If children are being tested as young as 7 (many home educated children have't even begun formal lessons by then!) and then again through out the year, at the end of primary school, and then so on into GCSEs, it is plain to see that schooled children will have an advantage of at least being more comfortable with the whole exam experience, and therefore, may 'perform' better.

I am not claiming this to be a good revelation or something to be considered and as Catholic home educators the fundamental reason we keep our children out of school is to protect their God given soul. Nothing can ever be more vital than this.  So no matter how many times I am taunted by the idea that my children may be poorer performers in exams only through lack of experience, of course, or be at a disadvantage against their schooled peers in the exam arena, it is of no real consequence when the life of their soul, their moral character and their innate love of the Holy Catholic Faith can be better preserved and protected at home.

May the Holy Family pray for all Catholic families as they strive to educate their children in this world!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

'Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom'.

After the last post which proved to be quite conversational (thank you for the engaging and varied comments!) I have been thinking, as ever, about degrees and further education.

Reading the comments brought to mind (again) my own experiences with University. In the last post I was questioning the necessity of a degree, namely because nowadays one can study literally anything just about anywhere. What I would like to emphasis is the importance of a hunger for knowledge and how without that vital requisite it would render a degree fruitless.

A degree, or any form of higher education, is a true way of expanding one's erudition and love for learning.

As home educators this is one of the key points of keeping our much loved children at home and close; to nurture a deep sense of eagerness to learn, to question, to discover- all of which is somewhat lacking in schools.

To follow this sense of wonder is truly inspiring to behold and usually a home educated child who has asked questions, inquired and been allowed to follow their interests and there by developing a deeper thirst for knowledge and truth, will usually have more of a sense of what subject they would like to study than their schooled peers.

To learn should be to free the mind and to lift the mind to higher levels. If a degree can bring this fruit then of course it is a good and right course to take.

Aristotle once said,  'Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.'  And this is also what going to university, or any form of higher education, is about- not just the subject the student is reading, but the acquisitions associated with it; the 'flying the nest' and discovery of self.

We as parents, equip them with the necessary morals and learning tools they need, but at some point, they are on their own, free to make their own mistakes and learn from them. (This naturally is easier to say when child is still in the confines of the safe home!)

This is is the same for their chosen course- it won't be just about what subject they're reading but what is happening around them- who they will meet, who they will have discourses with, what extra curricular activities they choose, if they continue to be actively pro life, attend Holy Mass, live as a devout Catholic, have like minded friends etc.  It is about growing up, finding their wings and flying...

All this thinking on degrees brought me back to my own experiences and how my three years at University affected me. It is quite difficult to compare as I was not a Catholic. In fact my years away from home 'up North' had the opposite effect upon me than University often does! From a wild child Jewish Princess I turned wannabee traditional Catholic, and in my final year I was attending daily Mass and holding weekly prayer vigils outside the local hospital. (When my three girlfriends were nursing hangovers and goodness knows what else on a Sunday morning I was walking to Deerpark Road to the SSPX Mass!)  I calmed down and 'found myself'. It may sound trite but on looking back now perhaps University- and it's freedoms and lessons - allowed me to find my way Home.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Degree or no degree.

My resolve is weakening slightly on the question of whether our children need a degree in this employment climate.

For a few weeks now Ben has been articulating his thoughts upon what he would like to study, if he actually wants and needs to study for a degree and if so, which subject will he choose to read?

This is a crucial one- many young people will have no clear idea about what they actually want to study and almost 'fall' into higher education.
So, deciphering what one would like to study must come first and then whether they need a degree or if it will enhance their chances of gaining a more fulfilling, better paid (sorry, but money eventually has to be discussed!) job at the end of three or even, four, years.
(Of course we aren't here discussing those wanting a career in medicine, law or any other profession that a degree is essential.)

This decision will be paramount in their lives- spending that length of time studying in depth a subject of their choosing is a tall order. It may even be life changing. Much prayer and time is required for them to know this is what God wants them to be doing. Discerning their vocation is the most imperative task of their young lives.

Ben is swayed, mostly by his parents, but also now from his peers and his teachers in sixth form.

Our debates go something along these lines- I, who actually have a degree in English Literature, altercate about why one needs a degree, yet my husband, who has no A levels, or degree, argues that a degree is that passport to a more desirable job at a higher level, more stimulating and challenging work. He also feels strongly about gaining a degree (or at least a few A levels!) as he himself found it so tough getting a good job even though he was as astute as the next man.. but a majority of companies wouldn't look past the fact he had no degree on his CV.

So Ben does lots of head nodding and turning from one parent to the other in these discourses! He realises that both are valid points plus of course, every person is different and will seek diverse things.

This belief of my husband's is one to take into serious consideration though.
Places of employment are still seeking workers with degrees this is true. In a time when there are fewer jobs but so many people wanting them, a degree may still be one of the only ways to set one apart from others and give them a more fruitful chance.

I'm not  wholly convinced!
Even though I often wonder how useful my degree has been to me; teaching didn't appeal to me nor did I feel any passion towards (dubious) jobs like journalism etc.
I ended up following my heart and my true passion- working with children and adults with severe learning and physical disabilities. I was 'over qualified' my new boss told me, yet nothing would have torn me away from my work.

My husband on the other hand has taught himself many demanding computer and writing courses, paid to do extra qualifications and then purely by merit and amiability he has climbed the work ladder but he claims, having no degree has been a major stumbling block for advancing.

As we battle on trying to decide whether degrees are the right course for our children, they in the mean time need to  begin making some life changing decisions. Let us keep praying fervently and entrust them to the Most Holy Family to find them worthy, meritorious work in this ever changing and morally corrupt world!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Home Learning alternatives continued...

Since writing on alternatives to IGCSEs, and even University, I have become mildly obsessed with finding out more! My mind is full of questions- what else is there for our children?

I have to confess that it has a particular interest for me as well as both my older children are interested in the forces and nursing respectively.
Although they are both academically very able they are questioning the real point of University unless it will enhance their chances in their chosen career, or indeed, be a necessity.

Just last night we had an spirited discussion with Ben, who is now nearly 17 and just completed four demanding AS subjects, all in a matter of about 6mths studying (completely senseless - they are changing A level format next year back to the traditional 2yr course with the final exams at the end, although Ben will not benefit from this). Being in school has been quite a positive experience for him on some levels, but it has made him even more aware of the question 'what is this all for?'.
During our discussion I was quite impressed by Ben's obvious ability to think and question. Although he chose to do A levels in a sixth form he is now asking if he truly needs and desires to go to University? He is fortunate as he has some idea of what he would like to do, and he has begun to ask himself some worthy questions as to the true reason for him going to University.

Another discovery yesterday was coming across a long distance learning college, the NCC Home Learning, that offers all different diplomas for students to learn from home.

The subject scope is quite overwhelming are...ones we would never consider at all ('smallholding management', 'equine science'?!) to ones which quite appealed to Ben such as Criminology and Forensic Science.
His thoughts are if he seriously considers say the police force then surely a couple of diplomas in criminology and forensics will add to his knowledge and learning ? (More so than a University degree in Law even or beforehand?)

And again for my daughter who is now 15. She is studying IGCSEs, yet detests  the stress of exams and with IGCSEs they are solely exam based.
She works voluntarily at a wonderful special needs school near our home. This was originally for her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, but she fell in love with the children and the work, and goes there all day on a Thursday.
She has considered applying there full time at just 16yrs old, but she is aware that if she wants to become a paediatric nurse a degree is almost imperative. (Nursing is no longer truly vocational!)
The NCC offer a large range of diplomas in special needs and child care. Marie e-mailed them and asked about the age requirements and was told students as young as 15yrs can apply.

Like BTECS, these diplomas can be studied at 14/15yrs offering more avenues for our children on their own or alongside IGCSEs/A levels.
Just a point to remember though; they are an accredited college and so recognised by colleges/Unis etc but do not give UCAS points (University points).

Researching other avenues of education and training is worthwhile for all our children. Even if our children are highly erudite and well read they may choose a vocational style career which requires skill and expertise. It is terribly sad that the traditional apprenticeship type of course is so hard to find nowadays as one could learn and master a skill which was useful and essential within society.

I long for all my children to follow their heart as well as their head when it comes to future employment. Course like BTECs and the NCC programmes offer very practical and appealing life skills as well as some academic learning and I think they are well worth considering.

(The NCC, like many others, also offers A levels and IGCSEs, creative writing courses and even Law course!)

What do you think?

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Alternatives to IGCSEs.

Sitting in my kitchen last week drinking tea with a home schooling friend, the topic of alternatives to IGCSEs etc came up. It ignited the interest I had always felt in regards to studying and learning and I could vaguely remember (naively?) saying none of my children would ever take GCSEs/IGCSEs! And here we are a few years on and our second child is currently sitting two more exams in Latin and Maths!

So what changed? My friend and I were agreeing that the 'peer pressure' (yes! it even exists among home educators!) of many of their friends settling down to the exam courses was a factor, plus of course the age old argument that they are stepping stones for attaining any means of FE (further education).

This is most definitely true..after all once I'd contemplated it what would they actually *do* if they weren't now studying towards exams?
Our chat then wandered into other avenues...of course there are many other ways of learning and qualifications but not many people are aware of them.

For a student who may not be very academically minded but would like to fill their day with learning, there is the option of the BTEC qualification. Level 1 is a 'broad introductory level designed for those not able to achieve grades A*-C at GCSE'.

There are a wide range of subjects - art and design, child care, music or engineering....

Level 2 (14yrs-16ys) is equivalent to GCSEs and again the range of  subjects is impressive, even including fish husbandry and horticulture- unusual!

BTECs can be studied at home so quite accessible for the home schooler or at a college and once one has attained Levels 1 and 2 (I'm not sure if one needs to do both) then they can go on to 3 which are recognised by Universities and are equivalent to A levels.

An Art BTEC, for example, could be studied alongside a few IGCSEs too as it demands a couple of days in college allowing the student enough time to cover more studies if they wish.

The beauty of home education is that studying is done in the child's time- when the child is ready, not the school. Each child is different and the Mother will know how much her child can manage, unlike a school. Home education also allows the child to study over a longer period of time, ie many home educators will sit IGCSEs over three to four years, so it is flexible and less stifling.
Of course all this is dependent upon what the student actually would like to study in the future. Medicine demands top grades in the sciences and so IGCSEs followed by three to four A levels is imperative.

Do our children *need* GCSEs/other qualifications to succeed in life? Almost certainly not. I still stand by this yet I do also wonder what I would replace their studies with in reality. Does not sitting IGCSEs lower their chances to do A levels, or go to University? Possibly not, but I still am not courageous enough (yet) to take that chance!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Discerning A level subjects.

A levels are often the next step of the educational ladder after sitting IGCSEs or, in schools, GCSEs. In school most students will be nowadays be studying an average of 10 to 12 GCSEs over the two years.This sounds a handful but much of the work is done in coursework and assignments and therefore, staggered, and less emphasis is placed on the final exams, unlike with the IGCSEs where everything rests upon the two or three long exams at the end of the course...

So, my question, or pondering really, is how much former studying of the chosen subjects for A level will a child require? And is it imperative for success at A level?

The transition between GCSEs to A levels is alike to taking a fifty mile pilgrimage on bare feet after a soft country stroll around a pretty garden!
A levels are challenging- they are demanding courses and onerous exams and no one can dispute this. Depending upon where the child goes to school or sixth form (or home - which is a rarity for A levels) will depend on how they master and understand their subjects. A levels are the important transition between being spoon fed (if at school anyway!) at GCSE stage to independent learning, thinking, analysing and research all of which is essential for both future studying and life in general.

Most schools and colleges will require a standard six to seven GCSEs grades A to C to enable them to study for A levels. A prestigious private school will require many more than that and most if not all of these will need A*s in order to be short listed for entry.

 Yet what should the student need in the subjects they desire to learn at A levels? Is it imperative do you think to have an A in Maths in order to study A level Maths? or  an A in English to study Literature?

Now, after a few months in sixth form with four AS level exams about to begin next week, Ben would say it is absolutely essential for the student to have gained a very high grade in their IGCSE subject in which they want to take an A level in.

This applies even more if the subject was a GCSE and not an IGSCE. IGSCE really does prepare the student for the AS level  - it is far more rigorous, more in depth and one cannot re-do course work as there is no course work!

Using Maths as an example as this is close to our hearts at the moment it being Ben's fourth 'extra' AS.
He wasn't brilliant at Maths, and certainly never even contemplated taking it at A level standard. Yet once he was faced with his A level choices (which, remember, in some schools are not vast), he wasn't left with that much variety and decided to try Maths.

Whilst he ended up attaining a (high) B in GCSE, he would definitely have benefited more from the IGCSE Maths (Maths, like Latin, Greek, and a few other subjects doesn't require course work and can therefore be taken as a GCSE) as this would have been a more appropriate stepping stone to the A level.

One also needs to take into account the standard of teaching if the child has gone into school and the amount of work necessary for A levels is vastly more than GCSEs/IGCSEs.

In hindsight, Ben would say an A/A* in Maths GCSE is almost essential in order to tackle the A level with relative ease, and the same really applies to all A level subjects- one wouldn't take the sciences without an adequate background of work and qualifications either.

May the Holy Family help and guide all our young scholars in their studies!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Another update regarding the Virtual Sixth Form College (VSFC)

A third post in a matter of days!

I must tell everyone though the assuring news that I received another e-mail from the founder of this proposed new college, Robert Ellis, who wanted to let me know the Department of Education have altered their policy regarding funding for part time students.

All part time students as of next year *will* receive funding which, if this college comes to fruition, will be marvellous for many home educating families as some students will prefer to just take one or two A levels and not the usual four.

It means more flexibility for students and makes it much more attractive for many people are the funding may be imperative to their children carrying on with their further education from home.

I will follow this post up as soon as I hear how the college gets on with their application for funding.

for now if you are interested in this form of studying for your child, do add your interest on their website;

This would be the only Government funded virtual college and may be the beginning of many and allow our dear children should they choose, to remain at home and enjoy their studies.

We entrust this possibility to the Most Holy Family!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Do you think the Virtual Sixth Form College (VSFC) will receive funding? An update...

Following on from the exciting news of the possibility of a virtual sixth form college, the main question in any interested parents' minds is - will they receive funding from the Department of Education?

I have had a few e-mail exchanges with the founder of this college, Robert Ellis.
He seems confident that they will gain funding but urges anyone curious about the college to show add their details on this link;

To be clear, only those students registering full time would gain funding. The college would accept part time students but they would have to pay a fee.

I asked this as my daughter would love to study Latin A level and they hope to offer it. I would, however, have to pay fees for her if she only takes the sole A level and not sign up full time.

If you are interested do sign up and keep this initiative in mind for the future. So many children, home educated all the way through, or those already in school, prefer to study at home. This college would be the first of it's kind in that it acts exactly as a college but within the home.
There would be proper 'classrooms' albeit virtual ones, with prep and teachers available for extra tuition.

What are your opinions on this college receiving funding?

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Living in the modern world - a virtual sixth form college.

As I completed the post last week on alternative choices for further education, a friend sent me this intriguing website -

VSFC (Virtual Sixth form college) sounds like an answer to prayer for students who do not feel entering the school system is for them, or they are unable find a suitable sixth form/college in their area which is in accordance with their beliefs. They will use the cutting edge video conferencing and seminars with the teachers (see  the effective virtual teaching section under 'About VSFC)

Hoping to open in September 2015, they will offer A level courses for ages 16-19yrs old.
They are hoping to present their evidence for support to the Department of Education and apply for funding. How wonderful!

On looking at the proposed courses I noticed there are many subjects not easily available in mainstream state schools and colleges and this is an area we're concerned about for my daughter who is 15 yrs, as she would like to study Latin and Human Biology, both of which are considered 'minority' subjects.

I have found on searching that only the prestigious private schools offers subjects like Latin and Greek with even Ancient Civilization or/and Greek being very taxing to find.

Other unique subjects such as Italian, Archaelogy and Creative writing (I won't show that one to Ben who is constantly writing stories in between his prep for his AS levels!) which offer a wealth of choice to students who prefer to remain within their homes.

There is a section on their website asking for anyone interested to 'Register interest', so if you feel this is a venture you would consider pursuing, do sign and say a prayer for their fruition.

Remaining at home to study A you think this is a viable option, or just too much work and pressure for the student (and parents!)?

Would you like to study A levels but can't face the pressures of school? Perhaps you've had a bad experience of school or been home-schooled. Perhaps you'd just prefer to work independently without unnecessary regimentation. Perhaps you want to do minority subWould you
 like to study A levels but can't face the pressures of school? Perhaps you've had a bad experience of school or been home-schooled. Perhaps you'd just prefer to work independently without unnecessary regimentation. Perhaps you want to do minority subjects, like Latin or Archaeology, that aren't offered locally.

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 Latin or Archaeology, that aren't offered locally.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

What if your child(ren) don't choose to take the IGCSE, A level route?

Not all children in the UK (I hope!) will choose to follow the 'traditional' route of IGCSEs/GCSEs and then A levels, and then, possibly, University...

Some will go on to study a BTEC which is usually more practical and encompasses a selection of subjects yet not as in depth as say A levels. Yet some higher level BTECs, like level 3 and 4 National diplomas are equal to taking three A levels, which is what the average student at 16yrs or older, will study in the UK.

Some Catholic home educators have chosen an entirely different form of education, following the various American 'High School Diplomas', like Kolbe Academy, Thomas Aquinas, Mother of Divine Grace, Our Lady of Victories...the list is many!
They will 'graduate' with a Diploma and then can choose to sit the SATs which are usually taken in America at 17/18yrs and a vital requirement for University.

However, some British home educated children (and their parents) would still prefer to 'keep it British' but do not feel sixth form or college for A levels is appropriate or will suit their child's needs.
And some children (and their parents) reject even the IGCSEs, feeling them to be not necessary for achieving and desire a more autonomous style of education.
(We haven't had the courage or the need to do this yet, however our third child, Samuel, is adamant he will not be entering school/sixth form at 16yrs old...)

The Open University is a fabulous option for many versatile students who wish to remain within the comfort of their own homes, but desire to do something challenging and academic.

All Open University degrees are highly recognised and respected and for home educated children can be very suitable, as they can begin them as young as 15yrs old, therefore bypassing the usual exams, should they wish.

The O.U offers a prodigious variety of courses and one can actually choose which components they have to make up their own degree. One can study anything from Classics to Child care...
There are courses worth 10 points which are short courses, usually completed within three months and can be done alone or alongside the larger 30 and 60 point courses.

When Ben was 14 yrs old he decided to try a OU course in science. At the time he was drawn to forensic sciences hindsight a boy's dream! (Believe me, Ben is many things, but a scientist he isn't!)
He chose a 10 point course, with the helpful guidance of the Young person's applicant team;

They are available to guide and help the student choose the right course best suited for them.
Ben did the 'Medicines and molecules' course and although he found it very tough, he did enjoy it, and (Deo Gratias!) passed.

If your child has any experience with the OU, I'd love to hear their experiences, perhaps they would even write a small piece for the blog?

Finally, I came across this super story of a home educated girl who studied nursing at University having no previous IGCSEs or A levels, so being alternative and approaching the educational system from a different angle can be just as successful and rewarding!

May the Most Holy Family guide our children wisely over all their educational decisions!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Revision Techniques

With yet another academic term nearing a close, many home educated students will be turning their minds towards their forthcoming examinations.

Usually most exam centres and schools will require one to register by January for the summer sittings, but many places will accept late entries (usually for a price!)

Revising at home will most probably come naturally to a child who has never been within a school environment, but some students find the whole prospect of revision daunting, and do not know where to start.

I would say along with exam technique (which is actually taught in schools as a singular lesson or at least within classes for GCSEs and A levels), revision is another task one just has to learn and are not spoon fed as they would be in school.
As home educated children are mostly independent learners and therefore can think for themselves, their revision techniques will probably be individual, exclusive only to themselves, making it far more beneficial in the long run.

If a child revises in such a way- whether it is reading a chapter thoroughly, covering it up and writing what they remember down, or repeating it out loud to themselves, or continously trying past papers - they will learn and become masters of revision best if they feel very at ease with their technique.

I can remember our 16yr old son, Ben, asking me a few weeks before his IGCSEs 'Mam, how do you revise?' and feeling inwardly quite shocked as I'd (wrongly) presumed he would just 'know'!  At least he asked ! (and there were about 4 weeks left until the first exam).

We talked about how one retains a piece of information, be it by re-writing it out over and over again, singing it to a special tune, using mnemonics;

Mnemonic is something which we can use to remember things much easier. As is often the case, it could be a phrase, a short song, or something that is quite easily remembered, that we use to remember something that would otherwise be difficult to remember. For example, we may use a phrase to remember a series of numbers, such as the mathematical Pi sequence (3.14159 etc) or an ordered list whose numbers or items are not easily memorized. Mnemonics are a way of remembering using association - associating easy to remember things with data.

I explained the advantages of mind maps which Ben became very fond of. They are also a memory aid- one takes a particular subject or word and draws lines (usually best that they're not straight!) to other connections to jog the memory into remembering. We have a book by Tony Buzan who has written a collection of memory aid books and which Ben enjoyed.
He told me he could actually picture some of his mind maps in certain exams which jogged his memory into recalling certain, important points. There is a specific children's mind map book by Tony Buzan too.

A good time table can also be helpful and the student can design this themselves; it is a good lesson for them to decide what they learn and how long for. There are many sites available to help a student consolidate a comprehensive timetable. When they begin will depend upon the student and what length of time they can concentrate for as everyone has different abilities of deep attentiveness.

Exams are a highly stressful time for many students (and parents!) It is hard watching your child become nervous and anxious over an exam so helping  them to revise as well as possible and use the resources available will lighten the load and help them feel prepared.

Apparently fresh basil is good for the memory too!
And of course a prayer to dear St Fulgentius, patron of students, and the Holy Family!

What exciting, inventive revision techniques do your home educated children employ to help them remember facts and information?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The end of the English Baccalaureate before it even properly began!

I was informed this morning from my husband that the Government have, yet again, changed their plans and decided to dismiss the English Baccalaureate , claiming it is 'a narrow view of education'.

Well, why didn't they ask?!

To omit the Art subjects as less important shows great disrespect to those who are gifted in these subjects and it was bound to fail when a vast majority of the country's children are barely passing the standard GSCEs!

Many parents of schooled children strongly opposed this idea and felt Gove was being dictatorial in his proposes; choosing what was 'in' and what was 'out' is blatantly unjust on so many children...

It may help to show the differences between the IGCSEs and the GCSEs though; it would be comforting to know that they were valued more highly by the education system and FE places.

All this unrest and indecision only leads to more people feeling uncomfortable and unable to trust in any qualifications in the UK system..what will be required of our children next I ponder?

May the Holy Family keep all those involved in important changes to our educational system in their prayers and ask God to lead them wisely and with discernment.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The English Baccalaureate and our home educated children.

The emergence of the new English Baccalaureate is causing quite a stir within the home educating world.
Finally the Education Secretary et al have accepted that the current GCSEs are not providing our children with a decent standard of education and they are full of flaws. At last! However their proposals are meeting with criticism too as they aim to limit choices drastically.

Michael Gove announced his great idea to liken the GCSE-style exam to that of the old (and wholly agreed) tougher O'level. Already home educators like myself are using the IGCSEs anyway so we're not unfamiliar with a far harder and more rigorous exam, yet this is what the Government now want to introduce into every school too.

Gove has suggested an entire new exam system with only one single board, no coursework (with the exception of science apparently and some languages) and to call this the English Baccalaureate. It will consist of children being required to choose between five subjects including Maths, English, a language, a science and history or geography.

It segregates the more 'academic' subjects from the other more practical subjects like Art, Home economics, DT, etc. Other subjects will be introduced once the core subjects are underway.

To add to the confusion I read in an article from the Telegraph (attached below)  that the English Bac already is in existence (2011 it was declared) if the child should have these five subjects I'm not quite sure what exactly constitutes the actual  'future' Baccalaureate.

As they introduce these different exams and qualifications my question is what will happen to the IGCSEs? How will home educated children be affected? Will they also eliminate the core papers of the IGCSE exams too, making it tougher for those who find some subjects very hard?

It seems, yet again, to be more concerned with the grades (talk is that they'll opt to use the actual percentage rather than a grade) and if they eradicate any kind of core paper it won't allow a less able student a fair chance surely?

How just and fair are these new proposals?

and to be unbiased!;

Will you consider the English Baccalaureate for your child, and do you suppose it to be a fairer and more demanding qualification?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Update on Preparing for Exams.

As discussed in the last post, 'Preparing for Exams', I stated that only private schools and tutorial colleges, with the exception of a couple of state schools, accept private candidates to sit the IGCSE examinations.

On further discovery I have since found that one can sit IGCSEs occasionally at state schools, namely the Edexcel board.
So it would be worth checking with one's local state school first before traveling miles to sit these exams. The nearest place will probably be the simplest as the child won't have far to travel and less time for nerves to set in! It also allows one to not have to account too greatly for traffic...we only have to travel into Oxford for our exams however to be there for 7.45am we usually leave an hour and we still worry!

This article also states how 400 state schools now teach the IGCSE and although I have yet to hear of one personally this is very assuring;

Rise of the IGCSE: Hundreds of state schools go for Gove's tough new exam

State schools are turning away from the traditional GCSE and offering pupils a tougher exam based on O-levels, figures show.
The number teaching the international GCSE has soared by 300 per cent since Education Secretary Michael Gove gave them more freedom to do so.
Two-thirds of public schools already enter students for the IGCSE, which does not focus on coursework.
New exams: State schools are turning their backs on GCSEs in favour of a tougher exam
New exams: State schools are turning their backs on GCSEs in favour of a tougher exam
Labour had banned state schools from adopting IGCSEs in key subjects amid fears they would undermine the domestic version.
According to data published by the University of Cambridge International Examinations, which offers the qualifications, increasing numbers are offering the IGCSE instead of the traditional exam, with English, history and biology particularly popular.
Four hundred state schools now teach IGCSEs compared with 97 in 2010 and 220 last year.

Some 500 public schools are also using the exams, up from 302 two years ago and 350 in 2011. Overall, schools made 50,000 IGCSE entries this year, the exam board said.
Peter Monteath, UK schools manager for CIE, said the structure of IGCSEs, which means pupils sit exams at the end, rather than throughout the course, is popular.
‘The feedback we are getting from schools is that they like the flexibility of these syllabuses, which gives teachers more scope to explore different topics with students,’ he said.
‘Their linear structure also gives students space and time to study topics in depth.’

The Department for Education said it was excellent news that schools were taking advantage of new freedoms and giving pupils the chance to leave school with the same set of qualifications as their peers at top private schools.
Government sources said the figures justified Mr Gove’s plans to replace GCSEs with a tougher,  O-level qualification – which are being resisted by the Liberal Democrats.
‘Employers and universities are desperate for the exam system to be fixed,’ said one source.
‘GCSEs and A-levels are not preparing pupils for work or further study. That is why we are restoring universities’ role in A-levels and why we are fixing the broken GCSE system.
‘Those complaining should spend a day in Oxford or Cambridge to understand the effects of the disastrous devaluation of exams over 20 years.’ 

Mr Gove, in an interview with the Catholic Herald newspaper, said he was passionate about reforming education because ‘earned success is the route to happiness’.
‘People say I want children to learn by rote. I don’t. I want them to learn by heart,’ he added. 
‘Think of musical scales. It’s only when you really know your scales backwards, when they are ingrained, that you are able to be creative. . . and to understand music.’ 
Mr Gove said he was unapologetic about his focus on discipline, rigour, standards and foreign languages.
‘There are people out there who are victims of an invincible prejudice, who believe that teaching, for example, classical languages is ipso facto for the elite,’ he added.
‘But the synapses connect in a different way when you learn a foreign language. The mind is framed to assess knowledge.
‘I simply want young people to be exposed to the very best that has been thought and written.
‘There’s no reason why children should be denied the opportunity to understand history, to discover the story of those who made them, on the basis that it is assumed they are incapable of appreciating it.’

If Mr Gove proposals come to fruition then hopefully we will see many more state schools, if not all, teaching the IGCSEs and then the choice of where our students sit the exams will be widened. If anyone has any experience with sitting IGCSEs at a state school, do write in! 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Preparation for exams

Just as we Catholic Home educators enter Hilary Term (using Oxford term names means we can have the same length terms- about 5 weeks! Ha) the exam possibilities for May/June 2013 will be looming over us.

There is a separate section on the blog which briefly discusses examinations but as this is an opportune time I thought I would write about it and also ask others to possibly comment with their own advice and support for others...

A few blog readers have made contact with me which is uplifting and interesting and one of the main questions is exams and where/how/when to take them?

Obviously as home educators one must decide, along with the child, the best age for them to sit the exams but how one goes about it can be quite a mine field, well, it certainly was for me when we started off on this journey.

The best way of doing it is to firstly find out where your child can sit the exams as without some where to take them everything else is pointless. It will be a case of ringing round a few local schools and colleges to inquire if they accept external candidates? And/or the local home education group may be able to point you in the right direction.

I cannot recommend enough the Home education Yahoo exams group;

No question is ever left unanswered on there!

A majority of home educated children take the IGCSEs namely because there is no coursework requirement but also because they are of a higher and more in depth standard.

Only some private schools and some tutorial colleges will accept external candidates to sit exams, especially IGCSEs.
No state schools will allow one to sit the IGCSEs as they do not offer them, but one can sit the GCSEs which require no course work in state schools like Maths.

So, one needs to make sure the child can sit the exam and what board the place offers- usually the boards are; CIE, Edexcel, OCR or AQA. These are the most popular boards and most frequently used.

So, in a nutshell;

*For the May/June sittings one will need to enter their children (usually) by February 2013.

* Seek a school/college/tutorial college to sit the exams at.
From personal experience it will be easier and best for the child if it is as near as possible.

* Make sure you know exactly what boards they offer and then check the syllabus and make sure it all tallies.

If, for example, your local school are using the Maths GCSE Edexcel course then you can go ahead and purchase the relevant text books and use past papers from the Edexcel site.

* Most local schools (private or state) will be far cheaper than a specialised tutorial college. This is usually because they are just charging for sitting the exam whereas these colleges can increase their prices to extortionate amounts as they know people will pay. (This may be the only option however if one wants to sit a particular exam and no where else offers it.)

Here in Oxford we are very lucky as the local home educators use a very prestigious school, St Edward's. in which to sit an array of exams and they charge only £40 per exam. If a child is taking 4+ you can imagine this can add up to a small fortune...

* Usually the exams officer of the school will advise and help and send you the appropriate forms, so contact them first.

* The timetables for the May/June exams will be available from about February on each exam board so you can check the dates. If any clash then the school will sort this out for you by keeping the child isolated. (This happened three times with Ben last year- it was tiring but he was free to walk around the grounds and eat!)

Any additional advice is most welcome and many prayers for the forthcoming exam applications!

May the most Holy Family keep our dear children ever in their Prayers!