HE Exams Wiki

ICT, Computing, Computer Science and other qualifications

Home-ed students can take IGCSE Computer Science, IGCSE Information and Communications Technology (ICT), or the European Computer Driving Licence, a practical qualification.  They do not usually take GCSE in ICT because it can be difficult to arrange to do the controlled classroom assessment (new coursework) element.  The closest alternative is the Edexcel International GCSE (IGCSE) in ICT, which has a practical exam lasting three hours in addition  

You may also be interested in some of the vocational IT-related qualifications and certificates that are available.

IT is a very varied field. Health and medicine is a good analogy: a surgeon, a  nurse, a pharmacist and a psychiatrist all work in the same field but need very different skills (with some shared fundamentals). The available qualifications split three ways.

  1. ICT and ECDL teach students to use computers in ways that are typical in common settings such as offices.
  2. Computer Science teaches some programming and a fair amount of theory about why computers work. It is an academic subject that teaches students how computers work. This is probably the best for those interested in programming or later doing a computer science degree (although its not essential for the latter - and maths is probably more important.).
  3. Vocational courses are aimed at jobs in IT, often particular jobs. They are the quickest route into those jobs for which they are relevant, but not the best route for all IT jobs.

ICT versus Computer Science

Note that ICT and Computing or Computer Science have different emphases.  Here is an outline of the differences from the 

Computing At School Project

“Computer Science is the study of the foundational principles and practices of computation and computational thinking,  and their application in the design and development of computer systems.    It is a subject discipline, on a par with Maths or Physics. Information and Communication  Technology (ICT) focuses on the creative and productive use and application of technology and  computer systems, especially in organisations.  We take ICT to also include Information Technology, Applied ICT, Digital Literacy and Skills, and e-safety, across the curriculum.  “

(much more useful info in the full article)

Here is a nice analogy, from ‘Computing At School’:

Computing is complementary to, but quite different from Information and Communication Technology (ICT). ICT is about the use of computers and their applications. Computing is about their design and implementation. To use the analogy of a car:

ICT is the equivalent of teaching how to drive a car, and how to navigate it. Once basic skills have been learned (how to use the clutch), the emphasis is on appropriate choice of destination, how to drive safely, how to develop a good route to the destination, how to choose which car is the right vehicle. Everyone should be able to drive, and similarly every student should possess basic ICT skills, and some knowledge of how to use them.

Computing is the equivalent of teaching automotive engineering: how the clutch works, how to design new cars, and how to maintain existing ones. Computing is more than just programming, which in the car analogy would be the equivalent of metalwork.

Not everyone needs to know how to design or maintain a car. Similarly, only a subset of (able) students will want to study Computing, just as only a subset want to study work in the automotive or related industry.

Some good discussions of the differences from students’ viewpoints on The Student Room

Do you need a GCSE or A-level qualification to study IT at university?

Not for all courses, although certainly for some. More recently, Russell Group universities including for Oxbridge applications actively encourage Computer Science at A Level as this now contains the D1 & D2 Further Maths modules from the older specifications.

ICT A Level was discontinued with all boards aside from Cambridge International from 2017.

I looked at some university entrance requirements for computing and found that it was not necessary to have taken an A-level in either ICT or Computing, although maths was essential.  This may vary between universities, but for instance, to do 

Computer Science at Oxford:

"Do I need to have done Computer Studies or Information Technology at A level?

No. Though these subjects are relevant, the way Computer Science is studied at University level is quite different from the way it is studied at school.

Also relevant are the A level Maths modules in Discrete Maths or Decision Maths; but again, the way we study these topics at University level goes far beyond what you will have done at school, so it's no particular advantage to have done these modules. On the other hand, if the sort of questions raised by these topics excite your interest, then perhaps Computer Science is the subject for you."

Edexcel International GCSE in Information and Communication Technology

The new Edexcel IGCSE ICT graded 9-1 has its first exams in Summer 2019.

Edexcel International GCSE in Information and Communication Technology (9-1) 4IT1 .

Exam code: 4IT1

Exam available: Summers only, starting Summer 2019

This specification includes a practical exam so you would need to find an exam centre willing to arrange use of a computer for that.

  • Paper 1 : written exam, 1h30 minutes . Paper entry code 4IT1/01
  • Paper 2: Practical test, 3 hours using a computer and printer. Paper entry code 4IT1/02 
    Teaching materials from Edexcel, including a Scheme of Work, lesson plans and a getting started guide.

Venues for the Practical Exam

Often people go to a private exam centre as few schools will take external candidates for the practical exam. Here are some centres which have said they will offer it:

Whitley Bay High School

"We accept candidates from any part of the country – the only requirement is that they attend our external candidate sign-up day – this will be on a weekday in the 3rd or 4th week of January 2020 and will be confirmed in November 2019

We will only accept entries for the full Pearson Edexcel ICT IGCSE exams (including the Practical exam) – we are not able to accept entries for the 3-hour practical exam only. Due to demand, we have now closed our summer 2019 entry process. Anyone wishing to enter for Summer 2020 should contact me via e-mail by the end of November 2019 – this will ensure they are on my mailing list and receive our application form.  Email is: Peter.lilley@whitleybayhighschool.org

Our 2018/19 price for entry for this qualification is £163. This price will be reviewed ahead of the summer 2020 season and confirmed in our entry form."

HE Exams Group tips

The following comments relate to the old specification, 4IT0.

"I'm finding it quite confusing trying to work out how to go about doing the IGCSE in ICT. ..I can find the textbooks but I don't understand how to go about the course work and find out if there's a practical part to the exam. Has anyone managed to do this ?"

Responses from the HE-Exams list:

The Edexcel book for the old A*-G specification was [Edexcel IGCSE ICT by Roger Crawford], published by Pearson and available from Amazon. It looks comprehensive but is certainly not the most exciting textbook.

Cambridge IGCSE Computer Science

Cambridge IGCSE Computer Science 0478 is popular with external candidates as it has written exams only, with no practical assessment - no computer is needed. This means that any CAIE exam centre which accepts external candidates should be able to take you for this exam.

Cambridge IGCSE Computer Science (9-1) (0984) has the same content and exams but graded 9-1. You need to specify which version you want when entering your exams.

Exam code for the 9-1 exam: 0984

Exam code for the A*-G exam: 0478


CIE Computer Science IGCSE 0478 had first exams in 2015.  

It is available to private candidates (syllabus p7), and is assessed by written exam only. There are two papers and "pre-release material" is made available to centres around 6 months before the exams.  You would need to check how this would be made available to you - probably through your exam centre as the exam boards generally prefer you do deal with the centre where possible. If you have trouble getting hold of it, please ask for help on the Home Education UK Exams & Alternatives facebook group, or the HE Exams Yahoogroup.

There are three different text books available for this syllabus and a workbook.

There are also programming books available in Python and VB.

The Cambridge GCSE Computing MOOC has a section on Ethical, Environmental and Legal considerations, which would probably be helpful for the Computer Ethics section. It also has a big section on hexadecimal numbers, in the module on "Representation of data in computer systems", and a whole section on Arrays under the Programming module. The syllabus is very specific about what you need to know.

Syllabus changes from 2023-2025:

Those sitting the exam from summer 2023 onwards, the syllabus is changing with a lot of additional items added.General overview of changes:

  1. Dropping the pre-release material. The programming exam will have a replacement section of a hand-written coding task.
  2. There are still two written exams (no computer needed), but the weighting for each exam is now 50/50 (previously it was 60/40). Theory exam: 50% Programming exam 50%.
  3. Additional Theory subjects including: AI, Digital currency, Cyber security, Robotics, Cloud Storage plus a few others.
  4. Extension to programming skills in syllabus to include functions, searching algorithms, string manipulation, 2D arrays, File handling, SQL 

Most of these changes bring the syllabus more in line with the UK GCSE syllabuses. 

Despite this, for Home Educators, this is still the best option as the Edexcel IGCSE has a computer based exam for the second paper which can means it can hard and expensive to find an exam centre.

So, in short, the FIRST sitting for these changes in the syllabus will be summer 2023. If your child is due to sit the exam BEFORE that date, the old syllabus remains.

There is a new text book available for the amended syllabus: here available from March 2021.

Resources for CIE Computer Science IGCSE

Cambridge GCSE Computing MOOC - free online course for 2015-2022 syllabus.

CIE Computer Studies IGCSE Blog- established by the author of the textbook for the old specification, this blog has some additional material and the author responds to questions via the comments facility.

Support Material for CIE IGCSE Computer Science - listed on the CIE site.

Learntec offer KS3 and IGCSE Computer Science courses made by home educator Julia Roebuck. They have had extremely good reviews from users on the exams support groups.

TeachAllAboutIt offer KS3, iGCSE, GCSE, & A Level distance learning & tutored courses, including new specification for 2021/2023. Holly Billinghurst is an established tutor & home educator who also works closely with schools for teacher training and wrote BBC Bitesize content for Computing. They also run a Computer Science site for schools & educators with free topic introductions for GCSE & A Level.

GCSE Computer Science

AQA computer science 8525 syllabus (for exams from 2022) is available to private candidates and does not have a practical exam. However, the exam centre is responsible for signing off that the student has completed programming skills, and this means that it is likely to be difficult to arrange with an exam centre.

OCR Computer Science J272 (from Sept 2021) is available to home educated students now. There is no practical exam or NEA (coursework), but the exam centre needs to sign off that practical programming has been completed.

Btecs - Vocational Qualifications

Vocational qualifications in IT, including Btecs, are available as Awards, Certificates and Diplomas. Btecs work much more like the world of work - you are 'managed' and get regular feedback from your tutor, and have the opportunity to re-draft assignments, as you would at work. In many ways Btecs assess consistency and hard work rather than ability to memorise. 

Usually you have to attend college to take Btec courses because of the emphasis on coursework. Some can be completed and assessed via online distance learning, though you will have to pay for this. This is a recent development, which means that the online companies offering such courses don't have much of a history or many online reviews to help you decide whether they will be good value.

Btecs and other vocational qualifications are commonly divided by size and level. An 'Award' is the smallest size (in terms of number of hours to study), next up is a Certificate, then a Diploma (roughly one year full-time), then an Extended Diploma (2 years full-time). So Certificate/Award/Diploma tells you how big the Btec is, and then you look at the Level to tell you the difficulty. BTec Nationals are Level 3 - A-level standard. BTec Firsts are Level 2, ie a 'good' GCSE at grade C or above, and Level 1 is Foundation level, ie GCSE at D-G. 

Pearson (Edexcel) has brought out a policy on distance assessment, so it seems that they do have a framework in place for certain qualifications to be delivered and assessed remotely.

Kandu-IT Btecs from home

Kandu-IT offer distance learning courses and assessment for Btec Level 2 and Level 3. This means you can do the full Btec from home, which is very unusual. They used to offer the Level 3 Extended Diploma, which offered enough UCAS points to access a foundation degree (Pass - Pass - Pass, which was max grade, gave 48 UCAS points). They now just offer the standard Level 3 which offers 24 UCAS points There is a discounted price to help Home Educators on www.awediscounts.com

Review from home educator Sandra A:

"My son studied with Kandu IT for a number of years gaining a Level 2 Btec (Certificate) in Computer Engineering and then a Level 3 Btec Diploma in ICT Specialist Systems. I can assure you that the company is completely reputable and genuine. Our tutor, Scott Mckenzie, and his father (Vince) could not have been more helpful and supportive. Nothing was too much trouble and they had endless amounts of patience. Student support was very, very good !! They were very supportive of home education..we found them brilliant for what we needed (and as a total non-techy, I learnt a lot too !)."

Kandu IT also offer a free online IT Technicians course, with a completion certificate - may be a nice intro to try if you're considering this sort of thing."

Other Btecs from Home

Tecol offer several Level 3 BTEC Certificates (for age 16+ only) to be completed and assessed online,  though we have no further information about this company at present. They offer 28 UCAS points.

ECDL - European Computer Driving Licence

Lots of home-educated children have taken ECDL, primarily because it is an IT Qualification which is easier to arrange testing for than GCSE or IGCSE ICT.  It is the 'European Computer Driving Licence' and is internationally-recognised (as part of the ICDL or International Computer Driving Licence).  It is a vocational qualification which shows that you can competently use a computer in a productive way. Lots more detail about ECDL in general, and how to find a test centre, on the ECDL page

The National Careers Service says the following about ECDL:

"The European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) is a Europe-wide qualification in basic computer skills. If you have passed ECDL, employers know you have the skills to carry out the main tasks on a computer. The ECDL is the first qualification in personal computing skills to be recognised throughout the European Union. And it looks great on your CV!"

Also consider:

iDEA - Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award scheme, from the Duke of York. Free, certified online programme that you can work through at your own pace.

Resources for ICT, Computer Science etc..

Learn Programming - great directory of free online courses aimed mostly at teenagers, from Bebras, which organises coding challenges for teens.

iDEA - Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award scheme, from the Duke of York. Free, certified online programme that you can work through at your own pace.

[BBC Bitesize ICT] - also useful for Computer Studies.  Revision and test activities for specific topics.

[Cambridge GCSE Computing MOOC] - free online course with tests and activities.

Other Resources etc via the Facebook Group IGCSE Computer Science and ICT

Learntec offer KS3 and IGCSE Computer Science courses made by home educator Julia Roebuck. They have had extremely good reviews from users on the exams support groups.

TeachAllAboutIt offer KS3, iGCSE, GCSE, & A Level distance learning & tutored courses, including new specification for 2021/2023. Holly Billinghurst is an established tutor & home educator who also works closely with schools for teacher training and wrote BBC Bitesize content for Computing. They also run a Computer Science site for schools & educators with free topic introductions for GCSE & A Level.