Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Exam contemplations.

As I write we are amid the exam season once again. This is the fourth year we have experienced exams as a home educating family, and I think with trepidation of the next, ooh ten years or so, we have to go!

Exams; one chance, or perhaps two, if one has two papers, to gain decent grades and be successful. No matter if the student feels under the weather, has a serious worry, suffers 'exam freeze'...it is all down to how they perform in those exams, and woe besides anything or anyone who distracts them.

Is this fair and just? Probably not. Yet for years this is how the UK educational system has functioned  and A levels seem to be becoming harder and more demanding and the IGCSEs the home educated children must do, in place of the GCSEs, are far more rigorous.

 Marie, my 16yr old daughter - now there's is a story and reminds me always to be prepared for surprises. All her educational life she has been astute and clever gaining very high marks in every subject she's applied herself to. She is our second child and even though I knew how bright Ben was, Marie always seemed slightly more academic and seemed to absorb and understand subjects like Latin and Maths with more ease than Ben. It was only natural, I naively presumed, that she'd breeze through her IGCSEs. How wrong I was! It isn't that Marie has failed in any way, yet she has not achieved what she is capable of.

As home educators, we usually have to teach at quite a high level, or at least guide (in my home!) and I knew from Marie's work she was very intelligent. She would return from the first two exams reasonably happy and certainly not flustered only to find a few months later she had not gained the high grades she had hoped for. On exam number three (Biology ICGSE) we sat down and discussed it. 'No, no, I absolutely do not panic!' she exclaimed, yet something was wrong. On asking for her Latin paper back (she gained a C at 14years old which in retrospect is not that bad!) her tutor said he would not have recognised that it was her as it was so far from her usual high standard.
We realised she was experiencing 'exam freeze', where she would just clam up and think she had forgotten everything through nerves and then write either muddled answers or even be unable to answer at all.

So, what to do? Over that year, Marie's confidence in her studies wavered, so much so that at times she would ask me never to put her in for an exam again. She re-sat a couple of exams and did better, but life is not for re-sits and it hurt me to see her self esteem diminish because of the exam world.

We discussed it in length and as Marie is blessed to know what she would like to do for a career - nursing/possibly midwifery -  she went and found the simplest way she could enter this profession. (Another skill home educated children seem to acquire- the gift of being independent enough to find things out for themselves).

She completed three more IGCSEs this year (the minimum I suggested!)- English Language, English Literature and Art. This will give her (if, please God, she passes!) six IGCSEs (and  German too), and she has discovered she can take an Access course to Midwifery which will allow her to bypass A levels and any further exams until degree level.

The Access course is in place of three A levels and one needs no qualifications to apply. I had previously thought one had to be over 18 years old to begin yet they are happy to accept Marie at just 17. The bonus of it as well is it is from home, so she will not be entering a school as Ben has done, and which she is opposed to.

As for Ben he is nearing the end of his two years in sixth form, in fact school life is now complete and he just goes in to write his exams.
It has had it's pros and cons and I still believe it was best for Ben, but entering a secular school as a traditional Catholic previously home schooled brings it's difficulties and it was only because I had great faith in his strengths and purity of heart was I less reluctant for him to go.

That said, he has now seen a little of the world and had a taste for what will come next. He would return home at night, discuss his day and the conversations he had been involved in or overheard (if he needed to, but as a boy, he is never too eager to evaluate things!) and made some good friends whom accepted and liked him for who he is. It has not been detrimental to him in any way, and in some areas it has been very beneficial, especially the rugby and football playing and the two trips abroad.

Secondary education, but especially post-14 yrs, is a real battle for Catholic parents and their children, Where to send them, which subjects to study, which school if any, which course online...it is a continuing minefield and we can only, as I have tried to do here, help each other along with our own experiences.

Please keep all children sitting exams and discerning their educational future in your prayers, and May the most Holy Family protect and guide them!

(For the Distance Learning courses where the Access course is see this link- http://www.distancelearningcentre.com/about_DLC.php)

Monday, 24 March 2014

The ever changing education system.

Here I am again about two months too late. Once more life seems to get in the way of any kind of sensible writing (if you can call this sensible) and quiet.

In approximately 8 weeks our eldest son, Ben, will sit his A levels (or A2s as they are sometimes referred to here). It is quite mind blowing that his first, and last, two years in school are nearing an end. How he has fared I will leave for another post, perhaps I'll ask him to write one, if I can catch him at home for long enough once he's 'free' again!

Much to my surprise (and to be honest, relief) the A levels are yet again, being reformed. From September 2015 the A level course will be linear; assessment only after two years, rather like it was when I did my A levels all those years ago.  The AS level will be retained but will be a qualification in itself and so one can no longer go and and complete a second year and turn it into an A level as Ben has done.

Additionally there is no longer any January exams available. Ben has decided to re-sit one Unit of his first year and instead of being able to do this in January just past, he has had to add it to his final exams which has caused some extra pressure and worry. (More on my part it must be said but then is it not a Mother's job to worry?)

Are these sensible and beneficial changes? I feel more at ease with two years for A levels with no break for exams after what is really about 6 months. When Ben went into sixth form to study A levels, he found himself after five tender months being told to begin preparing and revising for the summer exams. It is much to take on and most students (especially having gone from GCSEs which they do in schools and are a poorer standard than the IGCSEs) have a tremendous shock at the work load and the standard required of them to pass these exams well.
Here the home educated student is at an advantage- they have already learnt to work independently and do not need constant guidance in their research and learning. The depth of learning and requirements is a huge  difference for A levels- the schooled child suddenly finds they are no longer spoon fed but feeding themselves.

So reforming the A levels to a two year course seems a good option to me. It allows the student to master their subject more deeply and become proficient at answering the exam questions and learning content more assiduously without the constant reminder of threatening exams after only a few months.

A levels remain well respected for their rigour and Universities require them and prefer them to other qualifications. If your student is seriously considering University, especially a Russell Group one  http://www.russellgroup.ac.uk/, then it might be worth considering the more traditional A levels rather than the 'soft' options.

It feels like yesterday when Ben made his debut into school for the first time ever. Now he is nearing the end and will, after a year doing some voluntary work and seeing the world, enter a new phase of his life; most probably University and I'm sure there will be a tale to tell about that too...

May the most Holy Family keep all our dear children ever in their prayers, and guide and govern them in their studies with discernment and good judgement.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The gift of independent learning.

I apologise for the tremendously long break. Home educating my gaggle of children takes up rather a considerable portion of the day, as well as making sure they are fed (quite) nutritiously, hubby is not forgotten, the house is kept orderly (as much as it can with a feisty 3year old) and the one schooled child is given adequate attention when he returns home around 4pm...

Having my eldest son, Ben, in sixth form and home educating the five younger ones has high lighted the tremendous gift we can offer our children through home education - the gift of independent learning. Witnessing Ben use this gift within the school system has shown me how very important it is as he has found his experience as an independent learner invaluable.
From a tiny age all children are in awe of our world and learning is fascinating and enthralling. It does not take much to engage a 5year old in astronomy or a 9year old in Roman history (or vice versa!). As they grow and develop there is more scope within the home for them to pursue their own interests (as well as the subjects they may be required to learn, as in our home) and there is an inherent need to be independent, a joy when they master a subject or an activity which cannot be equalled.

Whether one directs their children to learn, follows a rigid timetable or/and curriculum, or even autonomously educates, the home educated child discovers how to master certain subjects and through this confidence, will become an independent, and usually more skilled, learner.
Whether academic or not, this skill will be extremely helpful through out their whole lives; whether they enter sixth form as my son Ben has, or they go straight to college/University or work, or remain within the home until they are ready to leave.

The skills they acquire are thinking for themselves - analysing, probing, questioning and constructively criticising. If, like my older children, they have been handed an IGCSE text book, a note pad and a pencil and watched Mam hastily flee the room, they will quickly decipher how to work for themselves. It is undoubtedly a harder and more arduous form of study- no spoon feeding in home education! Yet, this freedom and allowance for the child to direct, not the parent, is so imperative to forming their future work ethic and their character.

One interesting aspect of sixth form Ben often mentions - even now in the second year of A levels - is how many students find it taxing to work alone. They are told the key to success in A levels is independent study yet they are not 'taught' it or shown it  and this can be a stumbling block for many months. Ben thought the teachers were really helpful at first and always offering advice, opinions, handouts.This conflicted greatly with his peers' opinions (who thought they had been stranded) and became a source of amusement for about one week!

There's no question that, as I'm always saying, every child is unique, and therefore will learn differently. Yet most home educated children, which ever way they've learnt, will usually become more inquisitive, confident and independent young adults as they have learnt from a very early age what true freedom within learning is.

Do you believe home educated children become independent learners?

May the Holy Family continue to keep us all ever in their prayers!