This page tries to answer some of the FAQs people have about Science and home education.
If you are looking for links to the subject pages then scroll to the bottom.
Do we need to do a science?
No. No subjects/exams are compulsory for home educators.
A core science (usually Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Combined Science) is a requirement for some careers such as primary teaching, or nursing. If your child knows what they want to do then research what they need. If they don't know it can be worth doing a science to keep options open.
Can I do GCSE science exams?
For most home educators, GCSE sciences are not an option and they must do International GCSE (IGCSE). GCSE sciences do not have a practical exam, BUT the head of the exam centre has to sign a form for each candidate saying that the candidate has been offered the opportunity to carry out all core practicals at the centre. Most centres won't do this for private candidates. There ARE a few centres that can facilitate GCSE sciences, usually at considerable expense, but for most home educators IGCSE science is a more straightforward and safer bet. If you have a centre who says yes they can accommodate GCSE Sciences do get it confirmed in writing as to how they will accommodate the science practicals, centres who are not used to private candidates don't always have awareness of the issues. Note the arrangements for GCSE practical endorsement were different for summer 2021/22 due to covid exam cancellations but will be back to normal arrangements for 2023).
The information below is taken from one of the AQA specs, but explains the issue with all Science GCSEs:
All GCSE science students need to complete practical experiments as part of their learning. A minimum of eight experiments are required for single science qualifications and 16 for double science qualifications. This equips students with essential practical knowledge and experiences, enables them to put theory into practice and helps them develop skills for higher education. Private candidates wishing to study GCSE sciences need to find a school or college who will let them carry out the required practicals. Schools and colleges accepting private candidates must make provision for them to carry out all of the required practical activities as specified in Practical assessment. This is likely to incur a cost. We recommend you contact your local schools and colleges to organise this as early as possible.
Science International GCSEs (IGCSEs) are directly equivalent to GCSEs and extremely well respected. There are many home educated children with science IGCSEs who have gone on to be accepted to study competitive science courses, like physiotherapy, engineering and medicine. Please see the page about IGCSEs for more information about IGCSE equivalency. Content overlaps with the GCSEs so switching from GCSE to IGCSE should not cause too many difficulties.
Do I need to complete practicals for IGCSE sciences?
Although there are no practical exams for IGCSE sciences, an understanding of practical work is necessary.
IGCSE science specifications have a list of core practicals and skills/apparatus that the candidate is required to understand. Unlike GCSE sciences, the exam centre does not have to sign a form to say the IGCSE practicals have been completed. This makes the IGCSE exams easier for private candidates to access. IGCSE science exams have 'alternative to practicals' questions as part of the written exam papers - for CAIE there is a specific 'alternative to practicals' paper, for Edexcel the questions are mixed in with theory questions. Carrying out practicals will help with understanding, but it is not a requirement.
You can cover a surprising amount of practical work at home without having access to specialised or expensive equipment. Online videos can be found for most experiments. There are pages for Biology practicals, Chemistry practicals and Physics practicals which have ideas and support. If you have more questions about how practical work would be covered, please do ask on the HE UK Exams & Alternatives Facebook group.
What does single, double and individual sciences mean?
Single Award - This refers to doing a combined science qualification - which covers roughly 1/3 biology, 1/3 chemistry, 1/3 physics - worth 1 International GCSE.
Double Award - This refers to doing a combined science qualification - which covers roughly 2/3 biology, 2/3 chemistry, 2/3 physics - worth 2 International GCSEs, you will get two grades (eg 7-7, 7-6, or 6-6).
Individual Sciences - This refers to doing Biology, Chemistry and/or Physics as individual subjects worth 1 International GCSE each. You can choose to do any 1, 2 or all 3. There are other science options such as Human Biology or Astronomy.
Triple Science - There is no qualification called 'Triple Science', it is a phrase schools commonly use when students are doing GCSEs in the 3 core individual sciences (biology, chemistry and physics) as opposed to combined science. It is best not to use the term as it can cause confusion to students when sitting the exams as it won't say it on the exam paper.
What are the differences between combined science and individual sciences?
For combined science you study all three sciences together: biology, chemistry and physics. The content you need to learn is less than studying each subject as a single science IGCSE. Combined science IGCSEs are worth either one IGCSE (single award) or two IGCSEs (double award). So, you could study biology, chemistry and physics and, depending on the award you choose to learn, be awarded a single IGCSE or two IGCSEs. Explore our Combined Science page to see your options.
For individual sciences you focus just on the content (which goes more advanced) of the specific science. You may chose just to do your favourite, or you may chose to do two or you can do all three or other science options such as Human Biology or Astronomy.
On the Edexcel IGCSE syllabus science pages there is a downloadable mapping guide for each science subject comparing that compares the content of the single, double and individual science. For example, this is the mapping guide for Edexcel IGCSE biology (On the exam specification page select "course materials", then "teaching and learning materials" and then "Mapping document"). This might be helpful when making the decision.
Advantages and disadvantages of combined science:
- There is less content to learn compared with studying all three sciences as single science qualifications.
- There are synergies between the three sciences: studying chemistry and physics can help your biology, for example.
- Studying all three helps with your general knowledge and keeps options open for further study.
- For combined science IGCSEs, you receive an average grade for the 3 subjects, so one weak subject can pull the average grade down and lead to a lower grade.
- Combined science IGCSE covers less content than single sciences. While most A level courses will accept students who have taken combined science IGCSE, those who have taken combined science will have covered slightly less content and might find the transition to A level sciences a little harder.
- Specific resources targeted at the combined sciences are fewer.
Advantages and disadvantages of individual sciences
- You do not have to study all 3 sciences and can choose the science or sciences you prefer.
- If doing 2 or 3 you can spread out the subjects over different exam series.
- The content is greater than for combined science, which might provide better preparation for further study and ease the transition to A level science.
- You receive one IGCSE for each subject studied, rather than receive 1 or 2 IGCSEs for studying all 3 subjects.
- There are more resources and textbook/revision book options tailored specifically to single sciences compared with combined sciences.
- There is more content for individual sciences than for combined science, so, if you choose to study all 3 sciences individually, the workload will be greater than studying as a combined qualification.
Can we do Biology and Human Biology?
Yes. It is worth checking with colleges you hope to go to if they consider them as separate subjects. Most seem to and few have difficulties. Human Biology is often considered harder so if doing both it might be worth starting with Biology.
Science Subject Links
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