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?


  1. From David Forster;

    I think young people should think carefully about going to University nowadays, especially since it costs so much.

    There are three good reasons for going:

    1. You want to follow a career or profession for which a degree is either essential, or very desirable.

    2. You are really keen on an academic subject and want to spend three years of your life studying it in depth (and are prepared to pay to do this).

    3. You want the all-round intellectual culture and formation that a university is "supposed" to provide. See Newman's "Idea of a University" for details.

    I would strongly recommend that you read Newman's book, if you haven't already - and that Ben does as well. He ought to be clear why he is going to university, if he does - not just follow the flow like many have done in the past. It doesn't really matter if he works for a couple of years before going - he might be better for it.

    It's worth considering the Liberal Arts College courses. In the USA, Christendom College is well known among Catholics - and ex-pupil of mine is there at the moment.

    In England, recently a similar enterprise has been set up in London, called "Benedictus College." It looks good to me. It's worth looking at their curriculum, even if actually enrolling isn't attractive. http://www.benedictus.org.uk/

  2. David, I agree with your three points, and agree that Newman's ideals as expressed in 'The Idea..' provide an excellent description of what tertiary level education should be. However, we do have to face the fact that the kind of intellectual and cultural formation he envisages simply isn't on offer in our UK universities (as you acknowledge in your mention of Christendom).
    This leaves us with the first two reasons. I think if a young person were keen enough on a single academic subject he/she wouldn't hesitate to go off and study it and would not be the subject of this discussion.
    If they are not so keen (as is the case with Amanda's children - and my own eldest), we are left with the necessity/desirability argument; if a degree is not necessary to one's chosen career then we are back at square one with the argument. If a degree IS pursued primarily for the sake of the purposes of furthering - or even making possible - one's chosen career path, doesn't this militate against the 'purer' purposes of academic pursuit either 'for its own sake' or for cultural formation as outlined by Newman?

    Many parents (Amanda and I among them) subscribe to Newman's high ideals, and are keeping a keen eye on developments at Benedictus. It is precisely because of this that we and our older children (who are not keen on going to the US) are seriously questioning the worth of taking a degree course at a standard UK university. Benedictus is a long way off. Our dilemma is how to advise our older children who are making these decision now.

    Apologies if this sounds antagonistic - it isn't meant to be! I know we are on the same page on this issue. We are all just trying to work out what the best approach is for our children given the huge gulf between our own Catholic educational ideals and what is actually on offer in our universities.

  3. I very much appreciated and enjoyed both your comments.
    It was enlightening to hear David agrees with us! and gives me slightly more courage to keep hold on what is right and true for my own children.

    As Kathryn said, we have been extremely interested in what Benedictus have suggested but it *is* a while off, if it ever comes to fruition and again, it may not be ideal for all our children. (Ideal to me, yes, but possibly not to the children.)

    I have met a Canadian couple who began this home schooling University (I think they may well be accredited now) called 'Our Lady Seat of Wisdom'


    They were in Oxford visiting their daughter who had gained a one year placement at Oxford Uni! I was most impressed to see her passion - they began it with a couple of Mams and two Oratorians in some kind of barn and a few books!
    With this knowledge I approached a certain, well loved Priest who seemed extremely intrigued and interested..so there is a slim chance something along these lines may be born here in the UK one day.
    Benedictus frightens me a little as it will be costly, possibly unaffordable. I believe it is always best to start small...

    God Bless and thank you!

  4. Is 'Benedictus' that far off? I thought they were currently recruiting their first year entry to start next September, 2014. You may know more than me about it. It may well be costly, though - not so much the fees, which will probably be comparable to any other university, but living in London.

    Supposing that reasons 1 and 2 do not apply, i.e. there's no wish to follow a profession for which a university degree is essential, and there's no passion to study a particular subject for three years. What then?

    Why not start a part-time home schooling university? There are a number of examinations that could be taken, for example the London External degree courses, where all you have to do is turn up in June to take the exams (and this route is fairly cost effective). There are plenty of people around with sufficient academic experience to advise on how to write essays, and academic standards, etc.

    An alternative might be the Maryvale degree in Catholic Philosophy, which can be done part time over five years. Father Saward was involved in designing the course. That involves some tuition and essay writing, but most of the study is done independently.

    Home schoolers could devise their own programme, using a route like the Maryvale or London courses as the examined backbone, but including occasional meetings between participants to study matters of particular Catholic interest. It should be a lot less work than home schooling since the whole point of a university education is that most of the work is done by the students themselves!

    Hope this is in some way helpful. These questions about universities don't only apply to Home Schoolers. Increasingly, in these days of expensive courses and questionable teaching at some colleges, they are applying to other students as well.

    By the way, following a university course for professional reasons is nothing new, and even in Newman's time his "pure" ideals seemed very idealistic. Taking a degree in order to be a lawyer or a physician - or a civil servant - goes back to Catholic times, and was part of the European university from the very start.

  5. Thanks for the suggestions, David. I hadn't really considered the London External degree, though have heard of home-educators taking advantage of it. And I keep hearing very good things about Maryvale too. As to setting up our own courses - well, that would be wonderful but may be very far down the line when we have more experience and more time on our hands. I know that Benedictus were aiming for a 2014 start but haven't heard anything about recruiting intake for next year. That would be interesting. I wouldn't have a child ready for that for another four years or so - plenty of time to watch what happens...

    Yes, I take your point about professional training. I would have no problem with a child who wanted to be a doctor and pursue a degree in medicine. That would make life a bit easier in some ways!