HE Exams Wiki

What is it like doing A-levels from home education?  How do families decide whether it is right for them?  Here are some comments from home educators:

The Ingle Family

Jill Ingle has written a detailed article about her family's experience of home-educating two children through A-levels, just with the internet and textbooks - no correspondence courses, no tutors - and with outstanding results and a lovely family life to boot.  Please see the Ingle Family story.

Family 1

"For us, the advantages of doing A levels at home, are just the same as the advantages of home educating at any age or stage. 

From talking to children in school, I can see that an additional advantage at A levels, of home educating, is that schools sometimes can’t accomodate particular A level combinations. Also schools, often have their “own agenda” in terms of how many AS or A2 levels they expect. 

A disadvantage of home educating at A level is that schools “know the UCAS system” so they have clubs and competitions etc. in place, which the students get involved in, and these activities then provide the student with fodder for their personal statement. If you home educate at A level, you need to arrange these activities yourself.

Another possible disadvantage, of doing A levels at home is the reference for the UCAS form, which the school would normally write. We’re just at the UCAS form filling-in stage. Apparently we can get a tutor, employer or someone else relevant to fill in the reference. If you don’t use any tutors, or use a combination of tutors, I can imagine that getting a reference which really “sells” the child might be a problem. We’re fortunate, in that my daughter is already working part time doing engineering work, and she plans to study engineering at university, so we plan to ask her boss to fill in the reference for her. Of course, he won’t be used to doing UCAS references, whereas schools are familiar with them. However, the UCAS web site provides advice to referees. So we wait to see how we get on with this. "

Family 2

"The main advantage is that you can pick the subjects and pace that you want to work at. Sometimes the subjects you want to take are not always feasible at college due to clashes or the subject not being offered.

We have been able to sit units as they suited us, we particularly needed to just sit one exam per day, and were able to juggle sittings/subjects to suit. Now that January sittings are through there is less flex. I am not certain quite when the ability to bank AS and A2 units comes to an end.

On the downside, you have to pay for everything and do all the usual admin. Languages at A level are harder to accommodate exam centre-wise, we ended up going into the next county for a centre.

One other thought, it might well be possible to do some A levels at college and another one or two from home, might be worth exploring."

"I am listing our personal experiences of the exams DS sat between 1 and 4 years ago, so still current for the moment.

Must say above all else, it is just so crucial to get tutor guidance for the exam technique, as there is a prescriptive expectation which candidates must stick to, and it varies for different subjects...

AQA Environmental Studies, there is a recommended textbook which covers the spec well, although you do need to be quite up to date with current issues. It is possible to complete all four units without actually doing any field trips, although you will need to be aware of equipment and particularly the statistics part of the course too. We used Garry at theplanetearth to mark a mock and this proved to be the cheapest A level we sat.

AQA Economics, not the best choice of exam board, I plumped for this one because, at AS the exams are a split between multi choice and an essay, two essays at A2. The mistake was that AQA always shoved in some nasty questions and so it was nigh on impossible to score high marks. Edexcel have just essays. The Oxford IGCSE text by Moynham and Tipley is an excellent basis to build from.

AQA English, we did both Language and also Lang/Lit, Lang/Lit B is the only AS not to have coursework, but at A2 it is poetry heavy. We had problems getting recognition for an exceptional student when coursework was marked, even the tutor was interrogated and had to fill in extra documents on top of the regular authentication forms. Unless the process has changed, what AQA do is to gather all private candidate courseworks together and treat them as a 'school batch'. The assumption they then make is that a private candidate cannot hope to compete with a school who know how to play the system and thus expect B/C grade standard work.

Edexcel Modern History and also Early Modern History, boy what a cock-up! We ended up doing the coursework three times, due to tutor errors at NEC, it was a total nightmare. Since the problems we had NEC have zeroed any choice of topic for coursework and you have to do what they specify. We used distancelearningpartnership for Early Modern, and that was ok, they had had a battle royal with Edexcel to get permission to run the course and moderate coursework. If I had managed to locate a local teacher to take us through the coursework we would have sat AQA.

Government and Politics, we used Edexcel although the texts were a bit dry. This is a good example of checking which exam board suits best, we have found in general that AQA offer the clearest texts and Edexcel the fairest exams. DS just studied the texts and then we managed to find a tutor on Skype who happened to be an Edexcel examiner so we got clear guidance for the exam technique.

General Studies AQA, a bit of a hoot when you know the technique required.  Thanks to a focused tutor in Essex, DS managed to get 100% for all four units. He read the recommended textbook and had no great surprises, and then had around 4 or 5 sessions over skype.   The secret? Oh, all right, you just keep writing and writing, mention as many points as possible, you get more marks for the more points you make, of course they need to be relevant!

French, WJEC, a nicer board for the specification, but beware the possibility of getting a high grade boundary due to the smaller number of students sitting the exams. One unit DS sat had a boundary of something like 94% for an A...I think you really need a clued up tutor for WJEC, one who understands how the spec works together between AS and A2, and also steers students away from choosing two films to study for the A2 unit, it's better to do a book/film or two books.

That is most of it I think, it was extremely hard for us, we changed exam centres 5 times for various reasons, often incompetence of the exam officers. Because it was such a struggle I am happy to share and discuss the choices we made.

Ask me if I would do it again, I might, but only because I have learnt so much and it is a shame to waste it."