HE Exams Wiki

This page is about alternatives to the 'mainstream' GCSE, International GCSE (IGCSE) and A-level qualifications. It includes courses, qualifications, awards or experiences that students might use as a way of gaining recognition for their learning, outside of traditional GCSE and A level academic exams. The alternative qualifications below have been roughly grouped into the following categories, although there will be some overlap between the categories:

  1. vocational and recreational courses, portfolios and certificates
  2. community and life skills awards and volunteering opportunities
  3. alternative academic qualifications.

What are the benefits of doing qualifications or awards that are not GCSEs or A levels?[]

Alternative qualifications can be used as:

  • an addition to a CV to show a passion and provide a starting topic to discuss in a college, university or job interview.
  • a way to show aptitude in a subject where GCSE exams are not easily accessible to home educated children.
  • a structured way of developing an interest in a subject.
  • a way of gaining recognition for skills or knowledge without taking an exam or attending an exam centre.
  • a measure of achievement for those with SEND or health issues who might not be able to sit GCSE exams.
  • a stepping stone for a child that is not yet ready to sit exams, to introduce them to more formal study.

Are alternative qualifications equivalent to GCSE/A level qualifications?[]

Some alternative qualifications are the same level as a GCSE (level 2) or A level (level 3) qualification, but they might not have the same amount of content or 'teaching hours' as traditional GCSEs and A levels, This means they are not always direct equivalents. College and university staff and employers might not be as familiar with alternative qualifications, so you could find that they are are not as universally known and accepted as conventional qualifications.

Do confirm with the college, university or employer for your future career path that alternative qualifications will be accepted for the route you wish to take. Be aware that even if you have written confirmation from a college, it is not uncommon for colleges to change their minds about accepting alternative qualifications in lieu of the required number of GCSEs, especially if a course is oversubscribed with applicants who fulfil the entry requirements.

Still have questions? Join the Home Education UK Exams & Alternatives Facebook group to get support from fellow home-educators.

1. Vocational and recreational courses, portfolios and certificates[]

See vocational and recreational courses, portfolios and certificates for information on alternative options for the following subject areas. Some of the options are portfolio-based or practically assessed and don't require exams.

  • accounting
  • art, dance, drama, film and music
  • computing, gaming and IT
  • employability
  • food technology/cooking
  • first aid, safety and policing
  • science and engineering
  • sign language
  • sports and games
  • transport and logistics

2. Community and life skills awards and volunteering opportunities[]

See Community and life skills awards and volunteering opportunities for opportunities and awards based on life skills or community work, including

  • AQA unit award scheme
  • Cadets, Scouts and Girl Guiding groups
  • Duke of Edinburgh (D of E)
  • iDEA
  • Library Hack
  • Millennium Volunteers
  • National Citizen Service
  • Princes Trust
  • Saltire Awards
  • Springpod
  • Young Commissioners

3. Alternative academic qualifications[]

See the Alternative Academic Qualifications page for information about academic alternatives, including the following,

  • BTECS, Cambridge Nationals
  • Extended Project Qualifications (EPQs)
  • Functional Skills,
  • Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs)
  • International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE)/ACE
  • NCFE
  • NVQ and SVQ
  • Open University certificates, diplomas and degrees
  • SATs, APs (and other American qualifications),
  • T-Levels
  • UAL qualifications.

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