Time for some major home ed wobbles. It has to happen, periodically! – and at least it means we’re not complacent.

Thirteen suddenly seems such a big and scary age to be home educating, and it suddenly dawned on me (literally, at dawn this morning) that it’s awfully close to crunch time. That if Emily is going to end up with any GCSEs at all, decisions are going to have to be made imminently about how to do that, because if it’s left any later, she’ll be behind the schedule her schooled peers are on, and we’d end up having to do all 10/12/whatever it is these days at once, which would be….not good. We *had* been confident in our decision to ignore GCSEs all together, but then I had a quick catch up read around some other home ed blogs and discovered various 13/14 year olds already sitting their first batches of GCSEs and doing very impressively too.


Well, at least one part of the decision is easy. School is absolutely out of the question. Emily is categorically against it and does not want to even consider giving it a go. To be honest, that’s quite a relief, since we definitely don’t want her back in school either (although of course if she wanted to go, at any point, she knows she’s free to choose that). It really doesn’t figure in our plans or our family philosophy and, as Emily points out, she’s been out of school since she was five and has had a brilliant education, thanks very much, so what’s the point in going back now? No point at all if you don’t count GCSEs, and to be perfectly honest no, we don’t personally count GCSEs very much at all.

By saying that, I do not intend to demean the hard work of those (in school or out of it) who are studying/have studied for GCSEs – heck, I was in school, I did a raft of O levels, and I’m sure it’s just as stressful for teens now as it was then. What I mean, however, is that we as a family don’t believe GCSEs are necessary in a home ed context. Necessary in school, because in mass education there has to be some testing of the end result (apparently), but not necessary as valuable qualifications in their own right – because, whether they are the only qualifications you ever get or whether you go on to have doctorates coming out of your ears, nobody cares about your GCSEs as soon as you either start working or move on to a higher qualification. Which is why they are completely optional for home ed kids and why by no means all home educated teens take any at all. But the question is not how much we might value (or not) those qualifications, the question is how much having or not having them will affect Emily’s future.

My heart says no GCSEs, for reasons of both principle and practicality. Jon’s not as certain as I am, but trusts that I know what I’m talking about and that it will all work out fine for Emily in the end (eep). Emily wobbles from yes to no and back again, but mostly sticks with no. So if no GCSEs, what then? Open University foundation courses? But there are problems with getting them to take on under 16s and it all seems horrendously complicated, more so every time I look into it. It’s do-able, but it’s not simple. A levels? Are we going to home ed to A level, or will Emily go to college? I’m not confident about the reputations of the local colleges, so I can’t say I’d look forward to that with glee. So then what? No A levels either? And then what?

University? With admission via interview/portfolio etc in lieu of standard qualifications? Terrific, in theory, and has worked well for numerous home educated young people. In practice, will my relatively reticent teen cope with that kind of pressure to perform on the spot in extra interviews? Is it unfair to her? Would she be better off jumping through the hoops and getting the pieces of paper so that she can go through the standard application procedure like everyone else? Does she want to be like everyone else? Not as far as I can tell. Are we willing to give up several years of her teen life in order to jump through those GCSE/A level hoops when it’s not strictly necessary? Is she? (And the answer to the latter is almost certainly: no.)

Or, since Emily isn’t the most confident of teens (yet) and will never be the loudest or the pushiest in a group, will the lack of formal qualifications and the “different-ness” of her situation actually be an advantage for her, a something unique which draws the attention of an interviewer/employer/university admissions officer and gets her at least to that initial interview stage with more ease than if she had the same qualifications as everyone else and had to shout louder? Who knows? Could work either way. I’m banking fervently on the latter, which, by the way, seems to be borne out by what I’ve read of the experiences of home educated teens with similar aspirations and personalities to my wonderful daughter. She is academically minded and very bright, so it’s not as if she won’t have the skills/education to show for herself when challenged; she just won’t have the bits of paper.

Does she even want to go to university? To do what? Is university necessary for what she wants to do? Could she study with the open university instead? Would she want to? That all largely depends, of course, on what she wants to pursue as a career. And right now she has a less firm grasp on that than she’s ever had before. Over the years, Emily’s has been 300% certain that she wants to be a fashion designer, a professional rider, a politician, a psychologist, a programmer, and numerous other things. At the moment, she really doesn’t know, although psychologist is currently the front runner. And obviously, that could and probably will change. And also obviously, the qualifications required for these things are very different, which of course is why the state school system puts them all through the 10/12 GCSE route.

We physically do not have the time, patience or money to do 10/12 GCSEs without murdering one another in the process and/or robbing a bank, so we’d have to be very selective about the GCSEs. [For the uninitiated – despite paying the same taxes as everyone else, home ed parents have to pay for their children to sit each and every GCSE they choose to do. And it’s not remotely cheap.] But what’s the point in only having, say, 5 or 6 if you’re competing against kids with a dozen or more? Doesn’t only having a few look worse than having none at all? Having a few looks like you were only able to get those few. Not having any looks like you made a deliberate, positive, conscious decision to opt out and choose an alternative way of educating. Which we have done. Haven’t we? On the other hand, having a few carefully chosen GCSEs might look like a very well made, sensible choice, and it would be obvious from the rest of the candidate’s application that lack of academic ability was not the reason for not having more. Wouldn’t it? I just don’t know.

Double arrrrgggghhh. Maybe I could persuade Emily that what she really wants to be is an astrologer, an author, a writer or a medium, because these self employed positions:

  • require either no formal qualifications or qualifications one can study without needing prior “school” qualifications (true)
  • are a lot of fun (true)
  • are highly satisfying (true)
  • make lots of money, as demonstrated by her parents. Ah. Wait. I knew there was a catch in that plan. 😉

Well, we’re going to have to have a big discussion (again) and try to hash it all out (again). Obviously the end decision will have to be Emily’s, although how she’s supposed to know what to do for the best when her parents don’t know is beyond me. I knew home educating through secondary school age was going to be tough, but I imagined that would be because of the workload/level of work. Eight years ago when we took five year old Emily out of school, I don’t think the sheer weight of angst and responsibility of what we’re doing now had even dawned on me. It was all easy peasy during primary years. Now it’s daunting to say the least. But still the best decision we ever made, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Just wish I could glimpse the future and get a clue about the best thing to do. Guess we’ll follow our instincts, cross our fingers and hope for a lottery win which would enable us to set up the dressage training school she *really* wants to run and for which, alas, qualifications alone will not be enough!


About nikkielysian

Writer, astrologer, home educating Mum.
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4 Responses to Wobbling

  1. Alison says:

    University admissions people sound like they’re usually happy to chat about this sort of thing. Why not pick a few courses at different universities and give them a ring, see what they think?

  2. Elaine says:

    It is a scary time isn’t it? We decided Katie would take 4 GCSEs as the college course she wants to study states this is the entry requirement. I’m not one to insist on taking more than is needed, unless she specifically wants to! Having successfully passed GCSE maths last summer we feel happier this year and have even found a much cheaper place to sit the English, a lot closer too. The CCSS in Cambridge, where a lot of HE children sit their GCSEs, was fine but expensive. We got to chat to lots of HE kids and parents about their exams and needs for college etc. It generally came about that a set amount of GCSEs were needed to study A-levels at college – usually 5. I think it also depends on the level of course too. One friend of Katie’s needed 4 GCSEs for her Btec, only got 3, but they took her on on the understanding that they’d monitor her work for the first term. Needless to say she has excelled and is the top student.

    If Emily is interested in doing something equine, there’s always the BHS exams that are very highly regarded, and the Open College of Equine Studies does distance learning.

    Elaine x

  3. Bev says:

    I so know where you are coming from. I am wobbling all the time even though Jannick is not yet 12. I have looked at the International Baccalaureate which is on offer at the 6th form centre here. We have decided to try (try being the operative word I expect!) in a home-ed way to follow the principles of this qualification. It seems to aim to have a broad base and hopefully, that should reduce the number of qualifications to study and pay for but leave him able to go in which ever direction he later chooses. This is of course still just a plan, but I feel more comfortable with a plan that will ultimately be ignored than I would without one! He just says ‘trust me mother’ but that is so hard to do except in hindsight!
    Good luck, it will all work out right in the end,

  4. Pingback: The Inadequacies of Mr Anonymous | Home Ed Grows Up

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