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English Language GCSE or IGCSE is a 'gateway' qualification which is a requirement for many college and university courses and jobs.

English Literature is usually considered an 'optional extra' for home-educated students and is only really necessary if you want to take English A-level. Although some other A levels may request an 'analytical essay' subject, for which English Literature ticks the box. See the English Literature page for more on English Literature options.

If you've read this page but still have questions, you can join the Facebook group: Home Education UK Exams & Alternatives to get support from fellow home-educators.

English Qualifications and 16-19 College Funding

For college at 16-19, students who don't have GCSE English at grade 4 or C or above have to continue studying English alongside their main course until they reach that level. This usually (but not always) means that colleges will only accept those without on level 1 or 2 courses. If you have a 4 or C at IGCSE then you do not have to continue studying English.

IGCSE English language or literature meets this criteria - see IGCSEs and 16-19 College Funding

Functional Skills Level 2 is a grey area as to whether they are accepted to meet the funding requirement. They can be funded at college as part of the requirement to study English. However, they are not listed as meeting the prior attainment requirement for not requiring to keep studying English. It varies by college and course as whether they are accepted as equal to GCSE/IGCSE so do your own research and ask the colleges/courses you are interested in.

Options for English Language

Home-educated students usually take International GCSE (IGCSE) English Language. This is because the speaking and listening assessment is entirely optional - centres don't usually offer it to private candidates. This makes them far easier to find an exam centre for and usually less expensive.

Options for IGCSE English Language are:

  • CAIE First Language English (0500/0990)
  • Pearson Edexcel International GCSE English Specification A
  • Pearson Edexcel International GCSE English Specification B

GCSE English Language is an option for private candidate if they can find an exam centre willing and able to facilitate the speaking and listening component. See here for an explanation of why it is an issue for external candidates. Some home-ed students take a part-time college course to obtain GCSE English. For more on this option, see college for 14-16 year olds.

The CAIE O Level in English Language is also still currently available. However, it should be noted that this exam was designed for children whose first language is not English and that is explained in the syllabus.

Functional Skills Qualifications If it seems to you unlikely that your teenager will ever be able to get a good grade at GCSE/IGCSE, then a Functional Skills qualification may be more useful to them.

Before deciding on an exam ask the exam centre you want to use which awarding bodies (exam boards) they are registered for. Then, look at the syllabus for each of the above and try to work out which one might suit your child best. The English Language and Literature IGCSEs for Home Educators' Facebook group supports parents helping their children prepare for these exams. It is primarily designed for parents who are not buying in tuition or correspondence courses. There is lots of advice and information on the group to help with specification choice. This grid is a simplified explanation of the main features of each option.

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Edexcel English Language International GCSEs

Edexcel has two IGCSE English Language options at IGCSE - Specification A and Specification B. Both are equally doable and acceptable. It is personal preference as to which will suit your child better as they have different focus and assessment styles.

Edexcel International GCSE English Language Specification A

Edexcel International GCSE English Language Specification A page and specification

  • Exams from: June 2018
  • Available in June and January (until 2023) and November (from 2023)
  • Specification code: 4EA1

Subject Content

An anthology of written material is provided for preparation beforehand. This anthology is used for both Edexcel IGCSE English and English Literature.

The content is split in to 2 components:

  1. Non-fiction Texts and Transactional Writing (Part 1 of the anthology)
  2. Poetry and Prose Texts and Imaginative Writing (Part 2 of the anthology)

Assessment

100% exam based option.

  • Paper 1 - Non-fiction Texts and Transactional Writing - 2hrs 15 mins - 90 marks - 60%
    • Section A: Reading – a mixture of short- and long-answer questions related to a nonfiction text from Part 1 of the Anthology and one previously unseen extract.
    • Section B: Transactional Writing – one 45-mark writing task, from a choice of two involving a given audience, form or purpose.
    • Students will be provided with the anthology text in the examination.
  • Paper 2 - Poetry and Prose Texts and Imaginative Writing - 1hr 30 minutes - 60 marks - 40%
    • Section A: Reading: one 30-mark essay question on a poetry or prose text from Part 2 of the Anthology.
    • Section B: Imaginative Writing – one 30-mark imaginative writing task from a choice of three.
    • Students will be provided with the anthology text in the examination.

There is also a coursework option where students sit paper 1 and complete coursework instead of paper 2. This is an option than is not usually available to home educators as it requires working with a tutor affiliated to your exam centre to complete, mark and moderate the coursework. Some home educators have managed this but the vast majority need to take the 2 exam paper route.

There is an optional speaking and listening component listed in the specification. Centres do not usually offer this to private candidates. It doesn't contribute to the grade and is not listed on the certificate.

Resources

Textbook: Edexcel International GCSE English Language A

There is a second edition of the textbook aimed at teaching from 2022 (so 2024 exams). There is no changes to the content and exams, the changes are to the coursework. So both books should be fine.

The Edexcel Anthology for International GCSE English Language A and International GCSE English Literature is provided for use throughout the course and in the examination. The latest edition is under Teaching and Learning materials on the specification page but locked. If you have a relationship with an exam centre they may send you a copy, if not contact Pearson on teachingenglish@pearson.com saying you are home educating and they should send you a copy. If you have trouble accessing a copy ask on the Facebook group: Home Education UK Exams & Alternatives or the English Language and Literature IGCSEs for Home Educators' Facebook group.

The Teaching and Learning materials on the specification page has lesson plans, mapping documents, exemplars, past training and getting started guides which are really helpful.

Past papers can be accessed through the specification page or here. Papers with an R suffix were available in a different time zone. They are the same specification and can be used as practice. The previous version of the specification 4EA0 was very similar and past papers remain useful.

Mrs Rumsey on Youtube has videos for many of the anthology texts.

The English Language and Literature IGCSEs for Home Educators' Facebook group has advice and resources.


Edexcel International GCSE English Language Specification B

Edexcel International GCSE English Language Specification B page and specification

  • Exams from: June 2018
  • Available in June and January (until 2023) and November (from 2023)
  • Specification code: 4EB1

Subject Content

There is no anthology/literature component. Two unseen texts are given in the exam.

There is only one component : Reading and Writing. This is broken down in to:

  • Section A: Reading – study and analyse selections from a range of texts
  • Section B: Reading and Writing – explore and develop transactional writing skills
  • Section C: Writing – explore and develop discursive, narrative, and descriptive writing skills.

Assessment

100% exam based option.

  • Paper 1 - Reading and Writing - 3hrs - 100 marks - 100%
    • Section A – short- and long- answer questions related to two previously unseen text extracts. Total of 40 marks.
    • Section B – one 30-mark transactional writing task, based on the ideas presented in the source texts involving a given audience, form or purpose.
    • Section C – one 30-mark writing task, from a choice of three (discursive, narrative, and descriptive).

There is an optional speaking and listening component listed in the specification. Centres do not usually offer this to private candidates. It doesn't contribute to the grade and is not listed on the certificate.

Resources

Textbook: Edexcel International GCSE Specification B

The Teaching and Learning materials on the specification page has lesson plans, mapping documents, exemplars, past training and getting started guides which are really helpful.

Past papers can be accessed through the specification page or here. Papers with an R suffix were available in a different time zone. They are the same specification and can be used as practice. The previous version of the specification 4EB0 was very similar and past papers remain useful. The English group below has examples of old spec papers adapted to the new spec.

The English Language and Literature IGCSEs for Home Educators' Facebook group has advice and resource links.

A parent writes about Edexcel B


'My children both took Edexcel IGCSE 9-1 spec B. My first child got a 9 (aged 16) and my second got a 7 (aged 15). We chose spec B together as it seemed the most straightforward English exam available to home educators. There is just one exam paper to take, and no literature anthology to study.

We bought the ‘official’ Pearson student book for the syllabus but neither child found it useful and we quickly abandoned it. They looked a little at BBC Bitesize and some YouTube videos, but mainly we used past papers. I adapted older (A-G) questions to match the new question style so that we had more papers than we needed.

We used the mark schemes and exemplar answers freely available on the Edexcel site to figure out requirements. We broke the syllabus into question types and worked on each separately. There are five types of question for this spec: short comprehension questions, 10-mark text analysis, 15-mark text comparison, 30-mark guided writing, 30-mark free writing.

My children did not complete a whole paper in one three-hour session until the actual exam, which they both found manageable.' LP


Cambridge IGCSE English Language

Cambridge Assessments and International Examinations - CAIE, formerly known as CIE offer 2 IGCSEs in English Language from 2020. The difference is in the grading, 0990 being 9-1 and 0500 being A*-G, otherwise the syllabus is identical. There is no difference apart from the type of grading, but you must specify which you want when making your entries. CAIE say about 0990: "This syllabus is graded from 9 to 1 but is otherwise the same as Cambridge IGCSE First Language English (0500). You can view papers and other resources for Cambridge IGCSE First Language English (0500); these may be useful for teaching Cambridge IGCSE (9-1) First Language English (0990). 

CAIE International GCSE English - First Language (0990) page and specification

CAIE International GCSE English - First Language (0500) page and specification

0990 was new in 2020, 0500 the specification was updated for 2020 exams. Changes from 2020: One tier. Reconstructed Reading Paper. See website for details.

  • Exams from: 2020
  • Available in Autumn and Summer series
  • Specification code: 0990 (9-1) or 0500 (A*- G)

Subject Content

There is no anthology/literature component

CAIE say about the course: "Cambridge IGCSE (9–1) First Language English offers candidates the opportunity to respond with understanding to a rich array of reading texts during the course as a whole. Candidates will use these texts to inform and inspire their own writing, and write in a range of text types for different purposes and audiences."

Assessment

100% exam based option.

  • Paper 1 - Reading - 2hrs - 80 marks - 50%
    • Structured and extended writing questions
    • Questions will be based on three unseen reading texts
  • Paper 2 - Directed Writing and Composition - 2hrs - 80 marks - 50%
    • Extended writing question and a composition task

The specifications have a coursework option where students sit paper 1 and complete coursework instead of paper 2. This is an option than is not available to home educators. Home educators need to do the exams only option. There is an optional speaking and listening component listed in the specification. Centres do not usually offer this to private candidates.

Resources

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Textbooks

This is the textbook designed for the 2020 syllabus and is endorsed by the exam board. Collins Cambridge IGCSE English - Cambridge IGCSE English Student Book by Julia Burchell, Mike Gould, Geraldine Dunn, Steve Eddy, Keith Brindle - This textbook matches the most recent specification and is endorsed by CAIE.

There is an accompanying workbook.

First Language English for Cambridge IGCSE by Beth Kemp et al.

Cambridge IGCSE English First Language Workbook 4th Edition by John Reynolds - There are good practice questions for all parts of the exam plus really good suggestions for tackling each section.

There is an accompanying workbook.

Marion Cox's textbook is also very good and continues seamlessly on from her Checkpoint English (KS3 books).

An accompanying workbook also exists for this.

Her teacher's Resource book is excellent: Cambridge IGCSE First Language English Teacher's Resource (Cambridge International IGCSE) by Marian Cox. However, most home educators will not find it necessary.

Revision Guides

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Cambridge University Press publishes a very good revision book written by Marion Cox, who has written many other published materials for English. It is endorsed by CAIE, the exam board. Cambridge IGCSE First Language Exam Preparation and Practice.

OUP publishes a revision guide NOT endorsed by Cambridge by Jane Arredondo. Exam Success in First Language English

Letts publishes a revision guide for the CAIE English Language IGCSE which is endorsed by the exam board.

How to Ace the CAIE 0500/0990 English Language IGCSE Exam: Tips, tricks, and advice to help you ace your exam in 7 easy lessons by K Patrick - Dr Kat Patrick is a home-educator and member of the HE Exams community. She has written a revision guide based on her online crammer at Dreaming Spires Revision. It's available as an Ebook and print-on-demand paperback. She writes: "It's a workbook version of my online courses that I developed after examining the 0500 IGCSE and thinking home-ed students needed to know the exam from a behind-the-scenes perspective. "

https://www.facebook.com/groups/622353194460800/?fref=ts This Facebook group discusses all aspects of English in the home education context.

English Language and Literature IGCSE for Home Educators https://www.facebook.com/groups/801773049841714/ This Facebook group is for sharing resources and links related to IGCSEs in English Language and Literature. It is an especially helpful group for those not using a tutor or distance learning provider because it is aimed at helping parents assist their own children.

A parent’s experience of CAIE 0500/0990

'Four of my children have taken the CAIE English Language IGCSE 0500 (or 0990), old specification. I have not prepared anyone for the new exam yet.

We did not rely much on textbooks. I bought the ‘IGCSE Study Guide for First Language English’  (Hubbard) but didn’t find it very helpful. Whilst my sons love to read (and a few even write) in their own time, they all hated English Language exercises from an early age so it wasn’t worth the trouble of dragging them through a textbook. Like many parents, I relied instead on giving them a strong background in reading (and listening to) books which modelled good syntax and vocabulary (generally older books). Ideally, children need to be reading literature with complex sentences and subtle subtexts for a while before this exam: if they only read simple sentences with explicit meanings that is likely to limit their ability to read between the lines and to write well - both of which are needed for a high score. Given that my sons were allergic to English exercises, we corrected their spelling and grammar errors largely through other subjects (e.g. we made history quite writing heavy from 12 onwards).

To prepare for the actual exam I read some examiners reports and mark schemes and asked advice from others who had taught this syllabus. Then, in the September before the exam I set a few example questions from Paper 2 and marked them: we worked on the same question until they felt OK with what was required/got bored. Then we moved onto the next question and did the same. We didn’t do more than two or three of each so it wasn’t at all intense or stressful. My boys all found the ‘Writers’ effects’ question challenging at first. It helps if you have done some poetry analysis with them a while before this exam so that they are familiar with explaining how writers use language to produce particular effects (which is easiest to see in poetry). This is a hard skill to learn in a rush! I have found that the Reading Paper is more challenging than the Writing Paper: the key in the first question is to tell them to look for hidden/implied meanings, for things they can develop (N.B. this question is changing in the new spec). This is hard to ‘teach’ if your child is not used to reading between the lines. So, lots of reading (or being read to) from an early age is the best thing all round!

My sons all did well with this approach - A*, A*, B, 8 (my eldest son took a different board but scored A* 98% with the same approach). Textbooks can obviously help but I think they need to be used sparingly, not slavishly. Interestingly, DS4, who scored a B, loved to write but didn’t read extensively and, in past papers, struggled a lot with identifying implicit meanings; DS2 on the other hand, who scored an A*, rarely ever wrote at all but read avidly and widely. I think that says a lot.

One final point: like many parents, I found that this exam is best left to nearer 15/16 due to the maturity of understanding a child will have gained in that extra year.' Kathryn H. 2019


English Language GCSE

Why is English Language GCSE a problem for external candidates?

There is a fuller, more detailed explanation of why the speaking and listening aspect of GCSE English Language proves an issue for private candidates, contributed by Julie Barker, Head of FareGos Exam Centre available here.

AQA have a helpful page of information for private candidates by subject. On GCSE English they say:
English Language (8700) - Restrictions/special conditions for private candidates
This qualification is available to private candidates with the following condition:
Spoken language (endorsement) (NEA) (8700/C) :
The entering centre must provide private candidates the opportunity to complete this component.
If the candidate has certificated in a previous series, then the result for the endorsement can be carried forward.
This qualification is not available to students at schools and colleges in Northern Ireland.

There is no longer any coursework for GCSE English Language. The grade is awarded 100% on written exams. But there is a speaking and listening component that causes difficulties for private candidates. The biggest problem with GCSE English Language is finding exam centres offering it.

While it is possible for candidates to 'opt out' of taking the speaking component, centres have to be willing and able to offer the opportunity for candidates to take it. Exam centres are supposed to be able to demonstrate that candidates who do not take the speaking component were given several opportunities in which to do so. While the speaking component is optional for the candidate, it is compulsory for the centres to provide it and the onus is on them to ensure as many candidates as possible complete the component.

Providing the speaking component means that centres need to be able to accommodate external candidates coming to the centre. The assessments need to be videoed for external moderation. Although they do not contribute to the final grade the speaking component is marked, so centres need to be willing to do this and moderate if using several teachers.

This means that putting on GCSE English Language for private candidates is a lot of work for exam centres and most simply won't or can't do it.

Some centres (often schools) may just enter private candidates and not worry too much about the regulations but this is rare. More often someone in a centre "thinks" it will be alright to accept an entry and later realises the implications and withdraws the entry. So if you find a centre willing to accept an entry for GCSE English Language it best to be clear what they are actually offering.

A few distance learning providers eg OHS, enter the candidates directly, carry out the speaking bit on video and then transfer them to another centre for the written papers, but this will add to costs.

From candidate's perspective doing the speaking will probably incur extra costs - centre may charge more, extra trip to the exam centre. Not doing the speaking component will mean it is listed on the exam certificate as 'not-classified', this is the same as if failed.

AQA GCSE English Language

AQA GCSE English Language page and specification

  • Exams from: June 2017
  • Available in June and November (for those yr 12 age or over only)
  • Specification code: 8700

Subject Content

The AQA spec says for GCSE English Language students should:

  • read fluently, and with good understanding, a wide range of texts from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, including literature and literary non-fiction as well as other writing such as reviews and journalism • read and evaluate texts critically and make comparisons between texts
  • summarise and synthesise information or ideas from texts
  • use knowledge gained from wide reading to inform and improve their own writing
  • write effectively and coherently using Standard English appropriately
  • use grammar correctly and punctuate and spell accurately
  • acquire and apply a wide vocabulary, alongside a knowledge and understanding of grammatical terminology, and linguistic conventions for reading, writing and spoken language
  • listen to and understand spoken language and use spoken Standard English effectively.

Assessment

  • Paper 1 - Explorations in Creative Reading and Writing - 1 hr 45 mins - 80 marks - 50%
    • Section A: Reading - one literature fiction text, mix of short and extended response questions - total 40 marks
    • Section B: Writing - one extended writing question - 40 marks
  • Paper 2 - Writers' Viewpoints and Perspectives - 1 hr 45 mins - 80 marks - 50%
    • Section A: Reading - one non-fiction text and one literary non-fiction text, mix of short and extended response questions - total 40 marks
    • Section B: Writing - writing to present a viewpoint - one extended writing question - 40 marks
  • Non-examination Assessment: Spoken Language (See section on why is GCSE English Lang a problem)
    • What's assessed - presenting, responding to questions and feedback, use of Standard English
    • How assessed - set throughout course, marked by centre, separate endorsement (0% weighting of GCSE)

Resources

There are no textbooks for AQA GCSE but as it is a popular option in school there are a lot of support materials available.

Past papers can be found on the specification page or here

Other Resources

Seneca has material that supports a number of specifications including IGCSEs

TeachIt English has various resources that could be used to work on specific skills

Targeted at GCSEs but Bitesize is useful for practicing skills

Live lessons for Edexcel GCSE but could be useful for other specs

The English Language and Literature IGCSEs for Home Educators' Facebook group supports parents helping their children prepare for these exams. It is primarily designed for parents who are not buying in tuition or correspondence courses.

Many home-educated students study this subject successfully using just the textbook and free online resources, but some find a distance learning course suits their family better, or want to use a tutor occasionally for marking essays or past papers. Course providers can be found on the Distance Learning Providers page.

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