If you are considering homeschooling in the UK, particularly for a secondary school age child, you might be wondering how homeschoolers take GCSEs, or even if homeschoolers can take GCSEs. You’ll find all the answers you need below.
Can Homeschoolers take GCSEs?
The short answer is, some of them. Homeschoolers need to take GCSEs as private candidates and need to pay to take them. One of the disadvantages of homeschooling is that some GCSEs aren’t available to private candidates. These are GCSEs where the exam board has chosen not to offer them to private candidates, generally because they have significant practical elements or coursework. There are also GCSEs that, while open to private candidates, are logistically difficult for them to do. This can be because of getting practicals signed off or having coursework marked.
GCSE exams at sat in May/June. There is a November sitting for Maths and English but it is only open to over 16s. The main exam boards for GCSE are AQA, OCR and Pearson Edexcel.
A note on language: In 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.
Can Homeschoolers take IGCSEs?
In some cases, where a GCSE either isn’t available to private candidates, or would be logistically difficult for them to sit, there is an IGCSE available that they can take instead. IGCSEs are International GCSEs and are directly equivalent to GCSEs that can be taken both inside and outside the UK.
They are usually 100% exam based which makes them easier for homeschoolers to take as they don’t need to have coursework assessed. Many private schools use IGCSEs rather than GCSEs. They are generally recognised by colleges and universities in the same way as GCSEs.
Another difference between GCSEs and IGCSEs is that GCSEs are regulated by OFQUAL and IGCSEs aren’t. This means that announcement you see in the press about changes to GCSEs often won’t apply to IGCSEs.
IGCSEs are offered by two exam boards, Cambridge (through the Cambridge Assessment International Education division) and Pearson Edexcel, who also offer GCSEs. There are also two sittings a year for IGCSEs, one in May and June and another in October/November.
Where do Homeschoolers take GCSEs and IGCSEs
For homeschoolers to take either GCSEs or IGCSEs, they need to locate an exam centre that accepts private candidates. Unfortunately, this can be a bit of postcode lottery.
There are essentially two types of exam centres, institutions like schools and colleges, and private exam centres. Private exam centres usually offer a broad range of GCSE and IGCSE subjects from a number of different exam boards. Schools and colleges usually offer a narrower range of subjects and exam boards.
In order find an exam centre, its usually easiest to ask in your local Home Education community on Facebook. If you haven’t found it yet, search Facebook for “home education” and your county or town. You can also search online and while you will likely find any nearby private exam centres that way, if schools take private candidates (and the majority don’t) they don’t always mention on their website. If your nearest centre is some distance away, you might need to consider overnight hotel stays on the days before exams.
Choosing an Exam Board
In order to start studying for GCSEs you’ll need to decide which exam board to use. This will mean you can then choose learning resources tailored to that exam board’s syllabus. When making the choice, it is a good idea to start by identifying your nearest exam centre and finding out what exam boards they offer.
Once you know what exam boards you can access, that will dictate which exam boards you can choose for your exams. Where you have the choice of more than one, have a look at the syllabuses and past papers on the exam boards website to help you decide which is best for your child.
One of the great things about taking GCSEs as a homeschooler is you can take them whenever you are ready. In practice many homeschoolers start GCSE study from around 13 during Key Stage 3. Others don’t feel ready until they are much older.
Is it Hard for Homeschoolers to take GCSEs?
Logistically, it is certainly harder for homeschoolers to take GCSEs, but it isn’t any harder to take the exams themselves.
Some people think IGCSEs are harder than GCSEs but this is only because it is 100% exam based (which many GCSEs are now anyway) so if you have a bad day or generally don’t perform well under pressure, that could impact your success.
Which GCSEs Can Homeschoolers Take?
Below is some guidance on the different options available for homeschoolers for the different subjects. If the subject you’re interested isn’t an option, have a look at the alternatives to GCSEs.
Can Homeschoolers take GCSE English?
The GCSE English lessons in schools lead to two exams, English Language and English Literature.
English Literature can be taken as a GCSE or IGCSE as neither have a coursework requirement, no matter which exam board you choose. Most homeschoolers don’t take English Literature unless its something they are interested in.
English Language for GCSE has a spoken element that needs to be completed. Some exam centres offer the spoken element for private candidates however it adds to the cost and so most homeschoolers choose to take IGCSE English Language. Most homeschoolers who do GCSEs/IGCSEs do English Language as it is required for entry into many level 3 courses.
How do Homeschoolers take GCSE Maths?
GCSE maths has no coursework element and is open to private candidates. Some homeschoolers choose the IGCSE instead, as there is an option where a calculator can be used for all papers.
GCSE and IGCSE Maths comes at two levels. Foundation level, where the highest grade that can be achieved is a 5, and higher level where the lowest level that can be achieved is a 4, if the grade drops below that, an ungraded is awarded. Homeschoolers and their parents need to decide which paper is the best choice.
Like English Language, Maths is often a requirement for level 3 courses.
Can Homeschoolers take GCSE Science?
Science GCSEs require an exam centre to sign off that a student has been able to compete the practical element of the course and this is something very few exam centres offer. For this reason most homeschoolers use IGCSEs for Science.
There are a number of different options for homeschoolers to consider. The three sciences, Physics, Chemistry and Biology can be take as individual sciences. You can take all three, or just one or two.
Alternatively, there is the option of combined science, where all three sciences are studied. This can be done as either double science, where 2 IGCSEs are awarded, or single science, where one IGCSE is awarded.
Like Maths, science is offered at foundation and higher levels.
Can Homeschoolers take Language GCSEs?
Languages used to be more tricky for homeschoolers because of having the speaking assessment internally moderated. Things have now been simplified for most exam boards (the Cambridge IGCSE being the exception), with the assessment being recorded and sent off with the exam papers for marking. This means homeschoolers can choose GCSE or IGCSE in most cases. It is important however to make sure that the exam centre is able to offer the speaking assessmentbefore committing.
Can Homeschoolers take Geography GCSE?
The Geography GCSE has a fieldwork component that means homeschoolers usually need to take IGCSE.
How do Homeschoolers take History GCSE?
The History GCSE is available to private candidates with all of the exam boards and none have a coursework element. History IGCSEs are also available to homeschoolers if preferred.
How do Homeschoolers take GCSE Religious Studies?
There is no coursework element so Religious Studies GCSEs, as well as IGCSEs, are available and accessible for private candidates. There are two versions of the GCSE, short course, worth half a GCSE and full course, worth a whole GCSE.
Can Homeschoolers take GCSE PE?
Unfortunately PE GCSE isn’t available to private candidates because of the large assessed practical component. Most homeschoolers with an interest in sport pursue the one/s they are interested in and seek to gain qualifications in that, for example, coaching qualifications.
Aced art also offer a distance learning course in sport, the NCFE Level 2 Certificate in Sport, which is at the same level as a GCSE.
Can Homeschoolers take GCSE Art
Art GCSE is very difficult for homeschoolers to access. Some of the GCSEs and IGCSEs are not available to private candidates and those that are require coursework and a supervised art assessment. A small number of exam centres work with a tutor in order to offer it and they are listed in this post on GCSE courses.
Can Homeschoolers take Food Technology
Unfortunately, the requirement for a practical assessment of cooking skills means GCSE Food Technology isn’t an option for most private candidates. A few cookery schools do offer it in partnership with an exam centre and they are listed in this post about GCSE courses.
Technology Triumphs does offer NCFE levels 1 and 2 in both cake decorating and cookery, by distance learning.
Can Homeschoolers take GCSE Design and Technology?
The practical elements mean that GCSE Design and Technology isn’t an option for homeschoolers. This is disappointing for home educated son as he loves wood work. He has continued to practice at home and so would have a portfolio of items he could show if he wanted to apply for a related college course.
Technology Triumphs offers a Level 1 and 2 course in Creative Craft Mixed Media.
Can Homeschoolers take GCSEs in Drama or Dance?
Neither of these subjects are easy for homeschoolers to access but in some areas they may be offered by local dance schools or drama groups, so it is worth asking locally.
Many homeschoolers with an interest in this area aim for subject specific type qualifications such as LAMDA or ISDT grades.
Can Homeschoolers take Music GCSE?
The Music GCSE or IGCSE is difficult for private candidates to access due to the practical elements. In some areas you may find there is a tutor attached to an exam centre who offers it so it is worth asking locally.
Alternatively, grades in specific instruments are generally accepted for further study of music.
Other GCSEs/IGCSEs that are Accessible to Homeschoolers
While there are some GCSEs that children in school can do and homeschoolers can’t, one of the benefits of homeschooling is that there are some GCSEs that homeschoolers can do that children in school don’t often have the option to take, for example:
- Environmental Management (IGCSE)
- Business Studies
- Travel and Tourism
- Accounting (IGCSE)
- Ancient History
How do Homeschoolers Study for GCSEs?
There are three main ways homeschoolers can learn the material needed to pass GCSEs and IGCSEs. They are self study, a prerecorded course or live lessons.
Self Studying for GCSEs
Self studying requires familiarising yourself with the exam specification and learning the material that is covered. This can be done by buying text books, finding the information online or even using a tutor. There are also lots of free resources that homeschoolers can access.
Using a Course
This option involves paying for access to a course designed to cover the content of the exam you want to take. The course might include prerecorded videos, written information, suggested reading, quizzes, tests etc. For more information have a look at this list of organisations that provide online I/GCSE courses.
Using Live Lessons
There are many live lessons available online for homeschoolers to use when preparing for GCSE. They usually involve a live online lesson, often weekly, homework and sometimes marking of practice papers. In some areas homeschoolers club together and pay a tutor to teach a group of homeschoolers.
Whichever option is chosen, practicing past papers is an important part of preparation. Past papers are usually available from the exam board website.
If you are planning GCSEs for a homeschooled child, the key thing is to make yourself aware of the options as soon as you can. As what is available to you can vary by location, my final piece of advice is to find your local home education Facebook group so that you can ask questions when you need to.