Home Education GCSEs – can independent study work for teens?

This post is by 18yr old Toby – having just completed his Home Education GCSEs with ICS Learn, this is his post to have his say about his personal experience through the system, home Educating GCSEs. NO editing allowed by me – this is Toby’s opinion.
*We were provided with GCSE courses from ICS Learn in return for writing honestly about our experiences and providing tips on Home Educating.*

Throughout the past 6 years of my life, I have found myself in the position of independent study, thanks
to my parents giving me freedom from the typical school system, and putting me into homeschooling.

Needless to say, 6 years ago as a young pre-teen, this was genuinely life-changing. Suddenly I had no reins holding me; I was able to do what I wanted when I wanted, learn what I wanted to learn about, take time off
whenever I wanted, and enjoy my teenage years.
While this seems incredible, I have to say that it is easy to get carried away. Through my later teenage years, I found myself doing nothing with my time, and not getting the qualifications that I should have obtained at my age. I was in a poor situation, coming up to 17 years old with no GCSEs to my name, not even close to taking them or A Levels, and realising that I am truly running out of time and need to get a hold of my life.

Teenager about to take his Home Education GCSEs
Toby, just before he sat his GCSE online exams with ICS Learn. He wasn’t thrilled to have a picture taken…

So I sat with my parents, had a talk and decided that we should look for an independent studying system for me to be able to work hard and obtain my GCSEs, and then move onto my A Levels. I knew logically there is no legal age requirments for taking GCSEs or A Levels, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I was ‘behind’ my peers.
In came ICS Learn – everything about their system was incredibly appealing for someone like me who had
been out of the school system for so long. Everything was straightforward, their success rates were proven, there were real tutors on hand to help, and the comfortability and support seemed second to none. We got me signed up on the site for a set of GCSE subjects immediately.

Once I had started, I came to realise I had quite the feat in front of me. I had left myself barely 9 months to study Home Education GCSEs: 2 years worth of GCSE content. And all of this had to be done within the restrictions of COVID19, with a looming sense of doom and uncertainty hanging over me.

I was quick to contact my new tutors and put out my plan – telling them that I wanted to attempt the feat of taking my GCSEs in such a small amount of time, and still aim to get decent/high grades where attainable. Each and every tutor was nothing short of wonderful. I received fantastic introductions from each tutor, giving personality and image to their names on my screen – I found out their past in tutoring and education, their pastime hobbies, their true interest in the subject that they would be helping me with – and on top of this, they gave me clear-cut and straight forward advice on how I could attempt my GCSEs in such a small amount of time.

On their advice I set out a clear study plan, utilising the fact that I could access ICS at any time, and I spent the bulk of the hours of my day – every day – reading through the content given to me on the ICS Learn student website. I’ll be honest, to begin with it was extremely daunting – when you take your first steps up a mountain, the peak seems so far, and the steps seem so big.

I cannot deny, I broke down many times in the first few weeks – my plan seemed impossible, and all the content on ICS seemed so detailed, it simply appeared to me as far too much to handle.

But after contacting the tutors of my subjects that I felt were probably impossible within my time limit, and being handed great revision & study plans, I cracked on.
Once I had moved myself past the first steps, I found the website the best way to study possible. I didn’t have to take up my time taking constant and large amounts of notes, as the content was available at all times, and when I did take notes it was far easier to shorten and simplify them as I could navigate easily to the points I needed to note down. Admittedly, I made the mistake of avoiding taking tests at the end of each topic – however, this gave me far more time to read the content in a far shorter span of time.

Around January, when it was announced that exams were to be cancelled, I was nothing but terrified for my future. After 9 months of excruciatingly hard work, it all seemed for naught.

However, after contacting the ICS support team, I was given constant comfort with the knowledge that they were fighting the cause of their Home Education GCSEs students, hoping to guarantee that we could all gain our qualifications regardless of not being inside the school system. I cannot thank the support team enough for the constant extension of support and help during this time – a vast amount of fantastic advice was given, and I felt nothing shorter than confident in ICS that we would pull through and be given the chance to take exams.

In the weeks/months coming, it was announced that we would indeed have a chance – online exams, coursework and past test papers would be used in order to give us the greatest chance at our qualifications. These were managed incredibly by the ICS team considering the very short space of time given to set this up – everything felt secure, and I felt that the system was fairly proctored and set up in a way that we would not suffer to cheaters
causing problems for everyone.

In the space of these next few months, I worked and revised harder than I ever have before – with the ability to access all subject content on the website right up until the hours before taking my exams, I felt confident in myself. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had control over my education and my future. Thanks to ICS, I was able to sit exams in such an unprecedented time as COVID19, and get the best possible results that I could under my circumstances.

No matter the results I get, I cannot be prouder of myself for the work put in over the past few months. I have never read so much in such a short amount of time, and I certainly have never gone through the amount of pens & notebooks in my life than I did during those 9 months!

Thanks to studying towards my exams through ICS, I felt in control the whole time – whilst I did not have a teacher in person to talk to, I knew that I had tutors in support the whole time. Whilst I did not have
classmates to bounce off in a poor situation, I had plenty of time to utilise the 24/7 access of the subject content, and find the right way to break it down and understand it.

Through ICS, I have become a truly confident independent learner. I believe that due to taking my Home Education GCSEs under ICS, I have learned studying techniques, qualities and abilities that I simply wouldn’t even consider when going through a usual school system.

The confidence I find myself with in such an independent system is an unexpected consequence – and thanks to the remote learning that’s been enforced even in schools this year I truly believe that in the future, this will become a mainstream way to learn for children.
The freedom such a system gives is incredible, especially for a teenager. There is no toxic classroom environment, there is no pressured deadlines (apart from the insane ones you set for yourself!), there is only you, your dedication and your abilities. Whilst that may seem terrifying for most teenagers, by the end of your studies you’ll realise just how amazing such a system can make you. ICS truly moulded the way I learn and just how fast I learn.

I can confidently say that ICS Learn sets a great standard for independent online learning, certainly for Home Education GCSEs, and I plan on pursuing further with them in taking my A Levels (in yet another stupidly short amount of time…), with the trust that ICS will truly guide me through with good results. Whereas before when I started it all seemed so daunting, now I know that no matter how many steps I must take up this mountain, I will reach the peak.

See ICS Learn’s GCSE courses here. And if you have any questions for either me as a parent or Toby, then do please go ahead and leave them in the comments.

In other news, if you’re living with an exam-year student, you may appreciate our annually-revived ‘What NOT to say to your revising teen‘ post, our top online resources for GCSE revision, or our Top Tips for effective Teen Home Learning.

Author: Laura

A 70's child, I’ve been married for a Very Long Time, and appear to have made four children, and collected one large and useless dog along the way. I work, I have four children, I have a dog… ergo, I do not do dusting or ironing. I began LittleStuff back in (gulp) 2004. I like huge mugs of tea. And Coffee. And Cake. And a steaming cone of crispy fresh fluffy chips, smothered in salt and vinegar. #healthyeater When I grow up I am going to be quietly graceful, organised and wear lipstick every day. In the meantime I *may* have a slight butterfly-brain issue.

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  1. General Certificates of Secondary Education are the principal qualifications taken by 14-to 16-year-olds in schools and universities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. However, you can take them to qualify as a subject you’re keen on at whatever stage in life.

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