All about GCSEs and A Levels
‘GCSE’ stands for General Certificate of Secondary Education, the exams that within mainstream schools in the UK most students take at the end of year 11, usually when aged 16, although GCSEs can be taken at any age and home schoolers especially often take these exams before they are 16. GCSEs normally involve a two-year course of study, and on the National Qualifications Framework, GCSE grades C to G are level one, while students marked at grades A* to C have level two qualifications.
GCSEs are the main entry requirements for continuing study at A Level in many schools and other educational establishments, and may also be the listed as the minimum educational requirement for some jobs. There are a wide variety of GCSE subjects, including short courses, which are equivalent to half a GCSE, and double awards, which are offered in some subjects, including science, and are equivalent to two GCSE qualifications. GCSEs tend to be assessed through both coursework and exams.
A Levels are higher level qualifications than GCSEs. They are divided into two ‘sets’ of qualifications, AS (Advanced Subsidiary) and A (Advanced) qualifications. Most students in mainstream schools take A Levels over a two-year course, but students are able to study a subject to AS Level alone and still receive a full AS qualification. A Level subjects include academic and vocational options, and both AS and A levels represent level three on the National Qualifications Framework.
Studying for A Levels and GCSEs Within Home Schooling
The way that a student studies for formal qualifications within a home school environment will often be dictated by their level of comfort and attainment in exams. Students who thrive by learning and studying for exams will usually be happy to study for formal qualifications via long distance, or correspondence, courses. These courses may be expensive, but will usually be cheaper than hiring a home tutor for a child to work with on an individual basis face to face.
A distance learning tutor will usually be a subject expert who will be able to give parents and children advice on the exam process. Students who sign up for a distance learning course for a GCSE and/or A Level will usually be given a course pack, which will have a lot of detail on the exam board’s syllabus. Other inclusions might be features such as textbooks, revision guides, online forum or worksheet access, and proactive support from a personal tutor. The level of inclusions in a correspondence course will differ according to factors such as price. Parents will still have to organise their child’s exam centre, and there will usually be extra fees involved in a child taking exams at an exam centre (which may be a local school or adult learning college).
Another option is to hire a personal tutor. Some parents and children appreciate the one-to-one, personalised attention that a home tutor can provide, and he or she can be selected based on factors such as previous exam success, lendable resources, etc. The cost, however, will tend to be higher than a correspondence course.
A further option involves terminating – or at least pausing – home schooling and enrolling a child in courses in GCSEs, A Levels or alternative qualifications at a local college. This will tend to be free if the child is of the ‘normal’ age to take the exams, but younger children will generally have to pay extra. Some other parents decide to continue ‘pure’ home schooling even while studying for formal qualifications, opting to buy textbooks, exam board curricula, past papers, revision guides, examiners’ reports and other resources. Note that this option may incur extra – unforeseen – stress, such as the organisation and payment of exam registration fees and exam centre fees, the marking of any coursework, and other costs.