Many young people study a range of GCSE subjects at school, others follow online courses or join small independent learning groups. But some parents choose to go it alone, tackling whole subject areas and dealing with the administration without any formal guidance. If you like this idea but perhaps feel daunted by specifications, deadlines, options and teacher speak, these questions and tips are for you
One attraction of the DIY option is that it gives parents added flexibility to approach the subject at a level and pace that suits their child. A parent is likely to be very aware of their child’s ability and understanding, so can cut out time that might be wasted covering material that is already known, perhaps focusing more on particular areas of interest. The student could start a subject earlier than they would in school, or later. They need not take the traditional two years to cover everything but may do it in a shorter time scale, or take longer if this suits them better.
DIY GCSEs can also be a low cost option compared with online courses, private individual tutoring or learning in a private group. Be aware of hidden costs though, as explained below, and be realistic about how much time you will need and whether the benefits outweigh various challenges.
Home educators are probably the largest group choosing the DIY GCSE option. They may decide to tackle a range of subjects this way, or to choose one or two DIY GCSEs alongside different methods of learning for different subjects. It depends on the child as well as what suits the rest of the family. If you have younger children at home it may be hard to find the time and peace to dedicate to too many DIY GCSEs.
Sometimes school children do DIY GCSEs in addition to their school subjects. They may choose a subject that is unavailable in their area or a subject that clashes with their other options at school.
CAN ANYONE DO IT?
On a practical level any parent can guide their child through GCSEs themselves, but it is not an option for the faint hearted. You need to be organised, well prepared, realistic in your expectations and ready to track down the right people or resources if you have questions.
As with any alternative path, you have to be prepared to face family and friends who may not support your choices. Consider your relationship with your child too. A close relationship can mean you are best placed to teach them, but some parents feel their child would benefit from an outside party to motivate their child and keep them on track.
Things will be easier if you are an expert on a subject, or perhaps even a former teacher. But don’t be put off if you aren’t. You can find all the information you need in books, documentaries, museums and online, but it takes longer if you aren’t familiar with the subject. Some parents feel their role is simply to facilitate their child’s learning, so they don’t need to know everything. Others feel it helps to be one step ahead, ready to answer questions and foresee possible problems.
Be aware of hidden costs too. You may be avoiding the cost of tuition, but certain subjects such as Art and Science may require a range of materials or equipment. This may not rule out the option of a DIY GCSE but you may need to be creative about finding specific items. Some parents manage to share resources, others find what they need by contacting local colleges, checking online networks or turning up at car boot sales.
“Past papers can usually be downloaded from the exam board’s website, along with answers and examiners reports for tips on how to approach certain questions”
WHAT ABOUT THE ADMIN SIDE?
Many feel that GCSEs are not a true test of knowledge and ability, but more a prescribed way of jumping through hoops so that professionals can tick certain boxes. Some decide to steer clear of GCSEs for this reason, feeling confident that their children will be able to demonstrate their knowledge when the need arises, without this artificial method of measuring them. If you do decide to take the DIY GCSE route, you will need to accept that one of your challenges is to get the administration right. Try to gain some insight into the system that will help your children to jump through the right hoops.
You will probably begin by finding out about different exam boards and looking at their specifications online, to see which areas will be covered and how they will be assessed. In particular look at the balance of course work and exam papers, as it can be complicated and costly for private candidates to have course work assessed. Often parents select iGCSEs for certain subjects, as these are tailored to avoid course work.
Once you have chosen the subject and board, you need to start looking at deadlines and dividing up areas that need to be covered, within certain time scales. Always allow time to work on past papers too, and let your child sit some of these under timed exam conditions. Past papers can usually be downloaded from the exam board’s website, along with answers and examiners reports that are worth reading for tips on how to approach certain questions.
You will also need to find an exam centre where your child can sit the exams. Unfortunately the cost for this service has risen hugely over the last few years, with some centres now asking as much as £200 to carry out just the exam side of the administration. Make sure you organise all this in good time, as exam boards usually charge a hefty additional fee for “late entries”. Obviously you need to factor these costs into your decision to do DIY GCSEs. While hoop jumping seems to be positively encouraged, you do of course have the option to follow the GCSE syllabus, gain the knowledge, but not actually sit the exam.
With a bit of planning and good helping of enthusiasm, DIY GCSEs can be an amazing learning experience for the whole family. As with any alternative path, remember to reassess as necessary, tweaking different options until it runs as smoothly and effortlessly as possible.