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!