One of the two big questions asked about home educatiing teenagers is ‘How do they take exams’ (and yes, the other one is ‘how do they have friends’ *eyeroll*). Okay, first up – no teenager has to take exams. Nope, really. GCSEs and A Levels are not obligatory governmental requirements – the written legal requirement for home education is that each child receives an ‘age-appropriate, full-time education’. And there are no specifications as to what that means. Of course, as adults we know that getting a start in life without any exams is difficult – but it does mean you’re not tied to the national timetable of ‘GCSEs at 16, A levels at 18, University degree at 21’. You can be ultimately flexible – which is sort of the point of home educating. Exams for home educated kids come at various times and ages – lots of home ed families begin taking one or two GCSEs a year from the age of 13, others wait until their teen is ready and do an intense 8mth GCSE study when they’re in their late teens (see our successful story on waiting and then doing GCSE’s in a year here). Others go for different qualifications altogether – or work through creative portfolios for a creative college course. Some just go straight into apprenticeships.
*We were provided with courses from ICS Learn in return for writing honestly about our experiences and providing tips on Home Educating.*
But still, for the vast majority, the simplest way forwards is to work through the curriculum and book exams for home educated kids to sit GCSEs or A Levels.
How to book exams for home educated kids
So how do you do that? How do you book exams for your home educated teenager? The simple answer is – the same way as school kids… but at more cost. Because exams aren’t free unless you’re in school – this came as HUGE shock to me. I figured all kids got free exams under the age of 18. But no. You opt out of school? You pay for the exams.
In the school system GCSEs are a two year course, usually with the exam at the end of Year 11. But GCSE courses only require around 120 hours of actual study time – tricky to fit into a busy school timetable, but relatively simple when you’re free to set your own hours. Two hours a day, five days a week, and in three months you’ve covered the course.
But if you’re the one figuring out how home educated kids do GCSEs, there’s a lot you need to learn about the exam process itself; in school there’s always an expert to deal with it all for you. You need to understand the different exam boards, their course requirements, where their exam centres are, and which will be best for you. Many GCSEs have a coursework element, which simply isn’t practical for a Home Educated child. So most Home Ed families opt for IGCSEs – the same qualification, but purely exam-based. They were created for expat students who wish to maintain the UK curriculum, but they’re available to anyone, and in fact many private schools use IGCSE courses.
You will need to book to sit your exams at your nearest exam centre roughly six months before your chosen exam date – exam centres are usually schools or colleges that already have their own students entering the same exam. You’ll need to pay a fee to sit your exam – the exact cost of this will vary depending on which centre you chose.
How much do Home Education exams cost?
Your first step is to find an exam centre that will take you (some of your local state schools will accept external candidates – that’s how we’ve done it – and even more private schools do, though their fees tend to be much higher for the exam itself).
For us, the exams cost us around £65 each – £45 for the exam, and £20 admin fee to the school. The local high school exam officer was also incredibly helpful and hand held us through the process. But we were restrictred to just the exams they were already running.
Local provate scholls had a more closely matched array of exams – but the fee there was £285 per exam, PLUS £30 per hour of an invigilator (perhaps a 3hr exam, but also an hour each side that the invigilator was present on the premises). FAR too expensive for us to consider.
Failing those, there are specific exam centres scattered around the country which are solely for external candidates, offering a range of exam boards and who will gladly take you – fees vary, but are usually around the £200 per subject.
If this is all sounding a bit overwhelming, fear not.
If you’re using an online learning system like ICS Learn means there are always experts on hand to answer any questions, and to remind you of what you need to do and when.
Also – many others have gone before you, and there’s a fabulous community of experienced parents wiling to share their knowledge! Personally I’ve found the best place for advice is a Facebook Group – Home Education UK Exams & Alternatives. Lots of very knowledgeable and super-helpful people to assist with any query, plus loads of simple ‘how to’ tips and guides on the basics of getting started and organised.
If you’re looking for sone further help and advice, you might like to read my ‘One Home Ed Family’s Top Homeschool Learning Tips‘ – and I also shared my son’s thoughts on Homeschooling GCSEs ‘The Top 10 Lessons I Learned‘.