HE Exams Wiki

Deregistering at secondary age tends to make people more nervous than primary as it feels all that more serious. Exams, particularly, are a concern. They are not compulsory, you decide the education that best suits your child.

But assuming you do want to do exams, or at least not dismiss them yet, this page is a few thoughts on starting Home Education in Yrs 7-9.

Where do I start?[]

Some general thoughts -

a) Firstly and most importantly it is perfectly possible to gain GCSEs/qualifications while home eding. But you are responsible for organising and funding. The choices you have are different to those in school so research is key. LOTS of info available with the best source of info and advice being the home ed community.

b) To be honest the earlier you start home educating the better usually. Much easier to deal with the exam years (if you do exams) if you have more time to research and know options and can budget ahead.

c) Also helps to build links in the local community while slightly younger - home ed socialising in the mid teens gets trickier as everyone gets busy and also teens are teens.

d) Home educating at secondary age doesn't have to be that different to home educating at primary. People tend to panic but we still did lots of days out, took a project style approach (even when doing GCSEs) - up to Covid anyway.

Don't rush out and sign up to courses or buy resources. Take time to do your research. You don't need a long term plan yet . Short term is good. Explore interests and different ways of learning while you find your feet.

Things to think about -

  • What are you hoping for from HE?
  • What do they enjoy?
  • Do they have any long term aims? (lots won't at this age, so explore interests and keep options open)

It might not feel like it but you really do have lots of time. Do not be in a rush to jump straight into GCSE level studies. It can be more valuable to spend some time exploring different ways of learning and different interests with you child at this stage to help you make better choices of what and how to study. It also helps to get an idea of your child's strengths and weaknesses, and things you might need to work on before starting GCSE level study. Plus it can be good to have some fun with home education first, to allow confidence to recover and grow - the exam years can be a bit of a grind.

There is a lot to get your head around. Sitting exams outside the school system is very different to what most of us have experienced. But it is possible! There are many of us who have taken our children through GCSEs/IGCSEs. Take your time to get to grips with it. Learn the jargon. Look at what subjects are open to home educators. There are some that are very difficult but there is the opportunity to explore options far beyond the standard school curriculum. The more familiar you become with the issues the easier it will be to make decisions around exams when the time is right. But don't expect it all to sink in immediately, time and patience. Lots of tea and lots of reading of this Wiki will help. Most importantly, do NOT sign up to any distance learning courses or contracts with tutors yet! You may find, upon further investigation, that you don't actually need them. Hold onto your money for the moment.

The most important thing - don't forget to have fun! The fear of exams often drives people more towards replicating school at home (good if yours find it fun), you really don't need to. There inevitably becomes an element of grind when you are on the slog to exam day. So enjoy the years before as much as possible. Encourage them to develop hobbies and friendships to have some escape during the exam years. Not everything they learn or enjoy needs to be towards a qualification.

Do we need to cover KS3 before doing GCSEs?[]

No is the short answer.

GCSEs/IGCSEs are stand alone courses. There are choices within the National Curriculum and Academies don't have to follow it. Children in school don't tend to reach 14 with a single set block of knowledge. Don't panic about following 'the curriculum' in prep for GCSEs. Skills are important, good numeracy/literacy generally helps for all subjects. As does general knowledge and interest in the subjects they will go on and study. This doesn't need to be done by working through the KS3 course or textbooks, although if you wish to it things that way, that will also work.

What GCSEs do we have to do?[]

None! GCSEs are not compulsory.

What you choose to do is up to you, you can do fewer, you can choose subjects and there are lots available to home eders that are not often sat in schools. Some more practical ones are difficult though. The subjects page will help.

Maths and English Language are 'door openers'. Maths and English (Literature would count) are requirements, to have or be studying, for 16-19yo college funding. They are also requirements at level 2 for many jobs/University courses. After that it really does depend upon what they want to do next. So research college requirements near you and courses that might be of interest. Make choices to keep options open and be flexible as what they are set on at 12 can change overnight when they view a college at 15.

When should we start studying for GCSEs/IGCSEs[]

GCSEs/IGCSEs can be sat at any age. If they are ready you can start early and spread them out reducing stress and financial burden, you can sit later,

There is no right time to start studying or sitting GCSEs/IGCSEs. It is when is right for your child.

What you do not need to do is stick to the school model of studying 10/11 subjects over 2/3 years with all exams sat at the end of yr 11. Home education gives you the flexibility to work out a plan that is right for your child.

Most home educators opt to spread out exams over a few years/sittings. Some start as young as 11 but 14 is more common. Some continue with GCSE level study to 17 or older. They may study 1 or 2 subjects intensively for a year and then move on.

Home educators often approach the exams process strategically, with their children taking the more straightforward (less analysis/non-essay) subjects first and saving the ones that are more career-vital or require mature thinking until last. Sometimes the first subject might be a tester subject - a subject done for interest but which is unlikely to be carried forward. This allows the student to learn the process of exams and build confidence.

There are some advantages to spreading out exams:

* there is less pressure compared with sitting 6-10 exams in one go;

* the first exam(s) teach children a lot about the exam-taking process, so they can be considered a good practice for more crucial or tricky exams taken later.

* it's easier to budget for the cost of exam centres and textbooks/courses

* it gives teens the option to review interests and any career aims, change their mind and drop/start other subjects along the way;

* doing fewer exams in one go allows time to pursue other interests alongside studying.

* it provides a backup option if life gets in the way (eg illness) or, as we've seen in 2020 and 2021, exams are cancelled. Not having all the eggs in one basket can help in these situation!

* starting exams a year or more early than their school peers means that a student going to a college or sixth form interview will already have some results to demonstrate their ability.

Potential disadvantages of spreading out exams/starting early:

* The exam-study period can feel like it's dragging on for a long time.

* The joys of an interesting and varied home ed can be overtaken by textbooks and exam prep.

* Doing an exam early might mean the student doesn't get the grade they might do if they waited another year or two. You'll need to weigh this up against the pros of spreading out exams and be selective about which exams to take early.

How do I know my child is ready for GCSE level study?[]

Deciding when to start GCSEs is a tricky and personal decision. There are two aspects;

a) Are they able to cope with study at that level?

b) Are they emotionally mature enough to cope with the stress and demands of exams?

The two aspects don't always match up. Children may be ready academically before they could cope with the exam stress. In which case studying slowly and focusing on mastering the content before looking at the exam aspect can work.

There is no magical way of knowing. It's like most parts of parenting - guess work based on knowing your child. Some children like to study hard and intensely over a shorter period whilst others like to marinade in a subject for years before they feel equipped to sit an exam. You are the expert on your child, so observe them over time and listen to what they are saying to you about what they need and when.

Flexibility is key. If you start studying GCSE level and it turns out to be too difficult or stressful, you can take a step back and go back to plug some gaps or slow down and take your time over the content if needed.

Advice on studying towards exams[]

At the older age your role is mainly facilitator, guide, moral support, provider of mugs of tea, bit of nagging. You don't need to know the content of every GCSE/IGCSE they do. You need to know how to help them study for it and that comes with experience as all children are different. One of the most difficult things I found home educating through GCSEs is accepting your kids won't study/revise in the ways you did.

Many home educators successfully home educate through exams without tutors or courses. They are not essential for many families or all subjects. You will find some useful advice here - Study Skills. The home ed community offers lots advice, link sharing and moral support through support groups.

There are lots of tutor services/advisory consultants in education, but few with relevant elective home-education experience. You can find some listed on our Distance Learning Providers page

If you are going to use such services then here are some things to consider:

  • Do they come personally recommended to you by other home-educators; Ideally look for several recommendations, even if you see it linked/advertised on a HE group or on this site. If you are interested in a company, search home ed groups - does it get recommendations from a range of people?
  • Their knowledge of specific board/specification you need to enter the exam for. Mainstream tutors sometimes make mistaken assumptions based on their school experience rather than for private candidates. Make sure you know what options (GCSE or IGCSE, exam boards) are available to sit as a private candidates - tutors do not always get this right;
  • What experience do they have with home-educated students (not just after-school students);
  • SEND experience if relevant;
  • Their qualifications;
  • Any professional bodies they are members of;
  • If your chosen specification includes a non-examined assessment (often difficult for private candidates to be entered for) do they have a recognised arrangement for this with an exam centre;
  • DBS checks (NB. this can be relevant EVEN FOR ONLINE ONLY provision as well as in-person tuition);
  • Insurance (for e.g. professional indemnity insurance);
  • Will they offer a (paid) trial session before both sides commit?

It's important to work out WHAT you are studying before you worry about the HOW. You may feel time is tight but pausing to do your research is worth it, It will help avoid potential mistakes.

In the short term you might want to look at our Home Ed resources page which lists lots of helpful resources. These can be used to supplement later on or in the early days to allow you to help work out how your child learns best, their strengths and weaknesses, and their interests. They can help you get started with HE while you take the time to do the research you need around exam specs and study resources.

For the longer term you need to find decide which exam specifications to study and how you will cover the material. If they have started GCSEs in school you may need (or want) to make changes to the subjects and specifications they were studying. Don't be scared by this exam specs overlap in content. It is worth thinking about Home Ed as a new start with a chance to make choices that are right for your child. If you have never thought about exam choices before it can be a scary, overwhelming prospect. Our Jargon Buster is worth bookmarking to help you get familiar with the lingo. Take your time, there's a lot of information available to help.

The subjects page gives you an list of which subjects are possible - we are not tied to school restrictions on timetabling or EBacc so lots of flexibility. Some very practical subjects are very difficult though.

So for some subjects it is much easier for home educators to arrange exams for International GCSEs (IGCSEs). But that doesn't mean we have to do IGCSEs for all subjects, GCSEs are just as doable for many subjects. This page will help explain IGCSEs.

Then you need to know which exam specification to follow. The exam boards page explains different awarding bodies and some tips on choosing between them.

The most important thing when deciding on an exam board is to go for one you can arrange the exams in - so it is good to check what local exam centres can facilitate. Best to ask for each subject as centres might not offer all options. The finding an exam centre page will help. Read the information rather than jumping straight to the list at the bottom as there are tips on where else to look and how to approach centres.

You do not need to stick to all IGCSEs or the same exam board. Decide which is the best specification for each subject - read the spec, compare exam papers, consider practical issues (number of papers/length of papers/how often offered), look at resources available (books/courses). You don't need to make this decision for all subjects at the start.

The individual subject pages have links to the specifications, links to past papers, links to resources and more advice. They are in the process of being updated so not all pages are as organised as others but it's getting there.

Then you are ready to decide how to study.

This page helps with advice on self studying. The subjects pages have links to resources (and often links to answers) and past papers. If you want a course (most of us self-study for at least some subjects so they are not a requirement) there is a list of Distance Learning Providers here, search on here for the provider before signing up to read past comments, we have a weekend business post that you could check out.

Do I need to find an exam centre now?[]

In general, the advice is to find exam centres early so you know which exam boards that you can access. However if you're not planning on your child sitting the exam within the next 2 years, be aware that a lot could change in those 2 years. There's no guarantee that the centres you find will be taking private candidates or even exist in a couple of years. It's fine to look at exam centres, but keep options open. Beyond 3 years, the syllabuses could have changed significantly.

Local groups are the best place to get information about local centres. The HE Exams group can also help as can here - Finding an exam centre

More Help[]

Explore the links from the main New to Home Education or Exams page

Join and follow the group: Home Education UK Exams and Alternatives Facebook Group

If you have children of different ages, or if you are starting home education near the end of an academic year you might find these links helpful.

Starting Home Education in Year 10

Starting Home Education in Year 11