Alternatives to GCSEs [For Homeschoolers and Others]

GCSEs are the standard set of exams that young people take at the end of year 11 in high school. While they are the norm, the aren’t actually a legal requirement. If you think they might not be the right option, here are some alternatives to GCSEs, they are particularly suited to homeschoolers but could work for anyone.

Why Consider Alternatives to GCSEs?

GCSE courses are usually quite academic in nature. They usually involve a significant amount of reading and writing and this doesn’t play to everyone’s strengths. Some people need to learn and express that learning in different ways and GCSEs simply don’t allow for that.

All GCSEs and IGCSEs involve an exam element. In some cases, this exam can put an amount of pressure on a young person that is simply not tolerable. In other cases, accessing an exam centre presents challenges.

Unfortunately, many jobs and college courses require learners to have achieved a particular level of qualification in order to be considered, particularly in Maths and English. GCSEs at grades 4 and above are a level 2 qualification and so other level 2 qualifications that are equivalent can sometimes meet that requirement, making them a great alternative to GCSEs.

Remember that all colleges have different requirements so its best to check with the one you plan to attend if they will accept it for the course you are considering. If you don’t meet the entry requirements, most colleges have courses at level one that you can start with and then work your way up.

A note on language:┬áIn my posts, I refer to “homeschooling”. In the UK, the correct term for educating your child at home is “home Educating”, with homeschooling referring to a child doing work at home that has been set by school. I use the the term homeschooling in my posts because many people who are new to home educating will use the term homeschooling when searching online and I want to make sure they can find the information.

Functional Skills Qualifications 

Functional Skills qualifications were developed to offer an alternative way to demonstrate a basic level of literacy and numeracy. They are concerned with how we use literacy (English) and Numeracy (maths) in the real world. There is also a digital Functional Skills qualification.

Functional Skills qualifications are assessed with an exam but there are a small number of providers who can offer the exam online, some providers include:

The courses above are all private ones that need to be paid for which would be the case for homeschoolers under 16 (in the same way that GCSEs need to be paid for). For over 16s that don’t have maths and English at GCSE, these course are likely to be available free at a local college.

While they are available from Entry Level 1 to Level 2, it’s level 2 that you need as an alternative to GCSEs as they are equivalent. While most employers and colleges will recognise these qualifications in pace of Maths and English GCSEs, it is important to check with individual providers first to make sure.

image for linked Facebook group, text reads "homeschooling and home education information and support UK" with blue border

Qualifications that you can do from Home

If you are looking for alternatives to GCSE that you can do from home, there are a few options. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that you can consider a much wider range of course. You can also start earlier than GCSEs are started at school, many homeschoolers start studying for qualifications in Key Stage Three.

These are courses that are usually assessed via the coursework rather than an exam. Whether or not an organisation recognises these qualifications as equivalent is down to their discretion so always check first if you are hoping to use them to apply for a particular course.

NCFE Level 2 Creative Craft Cookery with Technology Triumphs

This cookery course allows student to study cookery from home and be awarded a NCFE level 2 which is usually considered to be equivalent to a GCSE at 4 or above. Work is assessed by videos and workbooks and can be taken over one or two years. This course (as well as the other Technology Triumphs courses) are well regarded in the home education community, my son is currently working on this.

This works particularly well as an alternative to GCSE Food Studies for homes educated learners.

NCFE Level 2 Creative Craft Cake Decorating with Technology Triumphs

This similar to the course above but is focussed on cake decorating. It is also available at level 1 which is usually considered to be equivalent to a GCSE at grades 1-3.

NCFE Level 2 Certificate in Creative Craft Textiles with Technology Triumphs

This course uses the same format with assessment by videos and workbook but focusses on the study of textiles. It’s a great alternative to GCSE textiles.

NCFE Level 2 Creative Craft Mixed Media with Technology Triumphs

This course is aimed at those who want to study art and design. It is also available at level 1 and can be taken over one or two years. 

NCFE Level 2 Certificate in Sport from Aced Qualifications

This sports course includes four units and is designed to be taken over a year although there is flexibility to take more time.

This is a good alternative to GCSE PE which isn’t available to private candidates.

NCFE Level 2 Certificate in Art and Design from Aced Qualifications

This is a 12 module art and design course designed to be take over two years but again, this is flexible. It’s a great alternative to GCSE Art.

NCFE Level 2 Certificate in Photography from Aced Qualifications

This Photography course has 10 modules and is equivalent to one GCSE. It is designed as a two year course but can be done over more or less time.

International Computer Driving License

The International Computer Driving license (ICDL) replaced the ECDL and is a benchmark qualification for use of Information Communication Technology. Teach All About IT offer the qualification as does The British Computing Society, including the assessment, online. The ICDL Core is level 2 so the same level as a GCSE.

BTEC Certificate in ICT Systems and Principles Level 2 from KanduIT

This level 2 BTEC course is offered completely online, with no exam component. It requires 120 hours of learning and includes two units. This course is more about how computers work while the ICDL described above is more about how to use them. There is also a level 3 course available.

Creating a Portfolio of Work

If you are hoping to enter a creative industry like art, fashion or photography, a portfolio of work can be the key to success. It can help alleviate the difficulties of studying practical subjects which can be a disadvantage of homeschooling. While colleges will likely require you to take a Maths and English qualification alongside it, entry to creative courses can sometimes be gained by showing a portfolio of work. 

The Arts Award

The Arts Award is a well respected and flexible way to demonstrate skills in the arts. It can be based on the wider arts like music, dance, pottery or even mime. There are 5 levels, discover, explore, bronze, silver and gold. Silver is at the level of GCSEs and the gold is attached to UCAS points. You will need to work with a registered centre but there are many who accept home educated children. The minimum age for the silver award is 11.

The Edexcel Project Qualification

The Edexcel project qualification has recently been made available to home educators via Groundmark Learning, in partnership with Tutors and Exams. It is worth half of a GCSE and involves the learner undertaking an extended project that results in a written report of around 2500 words. I works very much like a mini university dissertation and the topic and title have to be agreed with the exam centre.

Cambridge National in Creative iMedia Level 2

This course is equivalent to a GCSE and is sometimes taught in schools. It is available to home educators via Teachallaboutit. It is a two year course and can either focus on games design or animation.

College Courses

While many people use GCSEs as a route into college, there are options at college for people without GCSEs. There is a lot of variation between colleges regarding entry requirements so it’s best to contact your local college to find out what they require.

In general, learners with no qualifications will be asked to start with a level 1 course (equivalent to GCSE grades 1-3) and to undertake Maths and English, either as GCSEs or Functional Skills qualifications, alongside it.

Some colleges may consider offering a place on a level 2 course to someone who has no GCSEs if they are able to demonstrate, usually through interview or assessment, that they will be capable of competing it.

College courses are free if you start before you are 19, after that there is still likely to be funding available to those who haven’t yet achieved a level 2 qualification.


An apprenticeship involves working and studying at the same, the qualification will be linked to the job that you are doing. There are no GCSEs required to for an apprenticeship at level 2, however you will need to do GCSE or Functional Skills in Maths and English alongside your course.

The Open University

The Open University accepts applications from under 18s (and exceptionally under 16s) as well as over 18s. It offers higher education courses (degree level) and doesn’t require that you have GCSEs. The courses are expensive but are completely online.

You can also access free Open University courses via OpenLearn, they don’t lead to a qualification but can look great on a CV. There is no minimum age for these courses but learners have to be 13 or over to have their own account.

How Important is it to have GCSEs?

If GCSEs don’t work for you, I firmly believe it isn’t the end of the world, and I say that as a former Careers Adviser. There are plenty of other qualifications you can take and if you are keen to go to college the worst that will happen is that you start at a lower level than you would if you had GCSEs. That lower level will only take a year to complete which is very little in the grand scale of things.

There is also no time limit on taking GCSEs so if you decide at some point that you need them after all, there is nothing to stop you.

Boy studying for an exam, text reads "Alternatives to GCSEs"

Leave a comment