HE Exams Wiki


What are you taking on if you deregister your child to home educate (homeschool) for UK qualifications?

It's certainly possible to home-educate through GCSEs - many home-educated children have obtained GCSEs and other qualifications from home education, sitting exams as private candidates at exam centres. However, you cannot usually continue with all the same qualifications that your child was doing at school.

This page lists the things you need to know in order to make an informed decision about whether to take your child out of school during the KS4 / GCSE period. Read through the page first to get an overview, then the links offer more detail on each aspect. There is support available from other parents who are members of the Home Education Exams community - links to groups are at the bottom of the page.

Do you really want to home educate?

If you don't really want to home-educate but feel you have no other option, explore your options before you deregister. It may be possible for your child to stay home but have education provided for them by the Local Authority.

Children have a right to free education arranged by the school or LA if they are unable to attend for health reasons, including mental health, or if their special needs make it hard for them to fit into a normal school. DON'T DEREGISTER UNTIL YOU HAVE EXPLORED YOUR OPTIONS as you have much less bargaining power in terms of obtaining provision for your child once you have formally taken on full responsibility for their education.

Do any of these apply to you?

  • If your child does not want to attend school due to anxiety or ill-health, consider EOTAS - Education Otherwise Than At School, ie home tuition or online school provided by the Local Authority or school. Getting a sick note from the GP or CAMHS should protect you from prosecution for truancy.
  • If your child is being bullied and you're considering deregistration because you don't think the school has taken it seriously, you can appeal to the governors, the Local Authority and your MP. There are support groups to help you take matters further, which can help other children as well as your own. See  Coram's - Children's legal centre on Bullying  and you can copy template letters for governors etc. from Bullying.co.uk
  • If you are being threatened with prosecution or fines for truancy, don't be panicked into making this major decision. See Child Law Advice on Attendance.
  • If your child has been excluded or suspended from school, the school or Local Authority is still responsible for providing an education for them. There is a legal duty for them to provide education from the 6th day of exclusion. For an overview see The School Run on Exclusions and for detailed advice on your rights see the charity Child Law Advice on Exclusions.
  • If the school is trying to encourage you to deregister to avoid eg exclusion or truancy fines, this is known as "off-rolling" and they are not allowed to do it. Contact your Local Authority education department for advice.

Other places to get help:

What would I be taking on if I deregister my child?

  • Responsibility for ensuring your child is given an efficient, full-time education.
  • Choosing each qualification and syllabus to study and arranging how it will be studied. The Local Authority and the exam centre don't normally help with this; it's up to you to research it.
  • All costs of learning materials and exam entries.
  • Finding an exam centre which will let your child sit exams there.
  • Negotiating Access Arrangements for exams - eg extra time for dyslexia etc. This can be very hard to arrange if you're home-educated; it can be difficult to find an exam centre to support them and you would need to work with them well in advance of the time your child sits exams. It is much easier to get access arrangements if you are enrolled in a school or college.
  • Finding alternative qualifications, if there's a subject which your child wants to pursue but the standard qualification can't be done from home.

How can my child take exams?

You will need to find an exam centre which will enter your child for exams as an external candidate. This can be a school or a private exam centre. Most schools will not accept external candidates, but it's always worth asking nicely as your local ones might. Exam centres change their policy on taking external / private candidates frequently, so you need to check each year that a centre will still allow this. You can't assume that a school which took external candidates in the past will still accept them.

Your child's current school may allow them to sit exams at the school. This opens up a lot more options for you than for most home educators as they may allow them to take exams with practical elements (see below).

If your child is in Year 11 and it is past the January census, in most cases their GCSE results will be added to the school's league table results regardless of whether you deregister them and sit the exam elsewhere. In this case, the school has an incentive to help you.

Can we just carry on with the syllabus studied at school?

For some subjects, probably - for others, you will need to change syllabuses and may not be able to transfer over any coursework/ practical elements of the exam already covered.

You need to know the exam board ('Awarding Organisation' - AQA, Edexcel etc.) and syllabus title and/or code that your child is doing, in order to find resources for it.

If you have an exam centre which covers that exam board, you then need to look at whether the exam contains a practical element such as a speaking test, coursework project, science practicals etc.

What's the issue with practical elements?

Some GCSEs contain practical elements which involve a lot of extra work for the exam centre, so most centres won't accept external candidates for these. This may mean that you have to travel further to find a centre to accommodate you, and for some subjects you're likely to have to switch to an alternative qualification. Here's a quick summary of the subjects where these issues commonly arise, with a link to a subject page for each where you can read more:

  • English - GCSE English language involves a compulsory speaking assessment, even though this doesn't contribute to your grade. A few exam centres will accept external candidates for this so it's worth asking, but most won't. The alternative is IGCSE (International GCSE ) English language, which is very similar but doesn't include a speaking element.
  • Modern Foreign Languages - you can take GCSE or IGCSE syllabuses, but there is a one-off speaking assessment and you will have to find a centre to accommodate this. See Subjects for more detail on each language.
  • Science - although the new 9-1 GCSE doesn't have a practical exam, the exam centre does have to sign saying they've offered all candidates the opportunity to do all the core practicals and they are supposed to ensure you've written them up, too. Most centres won't do this for external candidates. The alternative is IGCSE sciences, which are very similar but there will be some topic differences between exam boards.
  • Music - music GCSE involves coursework and performance. It is not normally a realistic option if you're not in a school, because there are only a very few places which offer it to external candidates and it can be very expensive. In 2019 there appear to be 3 or 4 places nationwide where you can do it. The alternative is to take music grades to Grade 5 in an instrument plus Grade 5 Theory. This is usually accepted by colleges to show you're capable of taking music A-level.
  • Art - the amount of supervision and length of the practical exam means that few exam centres will accept private candidates for this, although there are occasional opportunities through home-education / homeschool groups. Alternatives include Trinity Arts Awards and/or building a portfolio.
  • Geography GCSE includes a fieldwork endorsement, similar to that for science. You may be able to show the centre evidence that you've carried out 2 days of fieldwork so that they will sign this off, or alternatively switch to IGCSE Geography, which has a similar syllabus but doesn't require practical work to be signed off.
  • Design and Technology - GCSE DT is 50% project and portfolio, involving many hours of supervised work. It is not a realistic option for most home educators.
  • Physical Education - GCSE PE involves a large practical element and assessors must work with an exam centre which is prepared to administer this. Although occasionally a home-education group manages to organise a course, it's rare. People usually focus on building a portfolio of awards from national governing bodies of sports instead.
  • Food Tech - involves a large practical project with around 30 hours of teacher-supervised work as part of the assessment. Not usually an option, although very occasionally a tutorial centre will run a class. Alternatives: build a portfolio with photos and write-ups, obtain a food hygiene certificate, study a distance-learning course.

How much does it cost to take exams?

There are two elements to this - the cost of the study materials, and the cost of the exam entries.

Exam costs include an entry fee plus an admin fee. The total is usually around £100 - £150 per subject at GCSE, just for written exams, although it can vary a lot. For exams with a speaking test, expect to pay £200 - £300 per subject.

Some Local Authorities (LAs) including Hampshire, Kent and a couple of others will make some contribution towards exam costs, subject to conditions. Most don't.

Study materials can be anything from a £15 textbook and free online materials, up to hundreds of pounds per subject if you want a distance learning course or online classes. See the FAQ for more.

Can my child just go to college or do an apprenticeship to get qualifications?

In some areas, home-educated children can attend college part-time from age 14 to obtain some qualifications. This is free and can be a good option BUT what's available varies a lot from area to area.

  • College courses for age 14-16 are only available at some colleges - check if they're near you.
  • A limited range of qualifications is available - often English and maths GCSEs plus vocational courses.
  • There is no substitute for checking what's on in your area, as the classes on offer to your child might be quite different from those available elsewhere in the country.
  • Some programmes are aimed at children who find academic work difficult, so may be offering qualifications at a lower level than GCSE, eg Entry Level or Level 1 qualifications. Some may also include children who are disaffected with education and who may be disruptive.
  • GCSE courses on offer may only be Foundation level, which means that you cannot obtain the highest grades. If you want to go to college to study A-levels, check that you would be able to meet their admissions requirements for the courses you want.
  • College courses for home-educated children are part-time and are only supposed to be a supplement to the education provided by the family.

Lots more information on College at 14-16.


Apprenticeships are strictly for ages 16+, so not an option at this stage. You can find some apprenticeships at 16+ which don't require any qualifications, but many do have some GCSE requirements and, generally speaking, you'll have a lot more choice of jobs if you can get GCSE maths and English under your belt.

What about waiting until age 16 to go to college to do GCSEs?

Even if you have no qualifications at age 16, you are still entitled to a college place. However, you will usually only have a limited range of courses available to you in this situation. It may work for you if you are aiming at vocational qualifications or are not in a rush to get higher-level qualifications, but may not be suitable if you are aiming at an academically competitive university course. In most cases, the courses available for 16 year-olds with no qualifications will be aimed at those who have struggled academically. Some colleges offer fast-track programmes aimed at those who are new arrivals to the UK and who need to get core qualifications quickly, and these can be ideal - but they're only available in a few places.

The page on options at Sixteen Plus explains more.

I want to go ahead with home education - what should I do next?

  1. A friendly general home education support group to help you make your decision is Home Schooling UK. Members have experience of a range of styles of home education, from unschooling to structured - the group supports all approaches to home education.
  2. Look at our Quick Start Guide on taking exams from home education.
  3. Read the FAQ our homepage tor any other questions you have!
  4. If you're ready to deregister, join the HE Exams and alternatives Facebook group: Home Education UK Exams & Alternatives for further advice and support
  5. Advice on deregistration and template letters