When home schooling your child or yourself, working out a curriculum and what to learn can be extremely difficult. One of the hardest parts to understand is what you are required to do by law. This includes whether you are required to take GCSEs and other similar exams. In the stress of trying to understand what you need to do, finding simple clear guidance about public exams and home-schooled pupils can be hard. However, in this article we will help you to understand the exam requirements for home schooled pupils and answer your questions about GCSEs for private entrants.
Home schooled pupils are not required to take any public exams or to follow the national curriculum. This is because they are considered privately educated. The only actual requirement for home schoolers is that they receive a full time, age-appropriate education. However, if you wish to take exams such as GCSEs as a home schooled pupil, you can do this as a private candidate, although you have to pay to take them. You also have to do them at a registered exam centre. This could be a school or another facility.
While this should have given you a basic answer to your questions about home schooling and GCSEs, there is much more information about this topic below, so it is important that you read on to get more detail.
Do you have to do GCSEs if you are home schooled?
There is no obligation for home schooled students to take any standardised tests or public exams as part of their education, so no, you do not have to do GCSEs as a homeschool pupil. Home schooled students also do not have to follow the national curriculum, so can study whatever interests them, as long as it provides a “full time, age-appropriate” education. However, if they wish, home schooled students can still undertake standardised exams like GCSEs while learning at home.
The benefits to doing GCSEs are numerous, as they are often considered a minimum standard for employment and universities due to most students taking them. This makes them easy to use for a generalised judgement or comparison of candidates at several stages of life. Having GCSEs (especially with good grades) opens up lots of opportunities in life, but there are of course other options if you choose not to take them.
Generally, most higher education courses and prospective employers need you to certify that you have at least a Level 2 qualification in maths and English. This is most commonly a GCSE in each, but can also be a functional skills qualification, or another equivalent. If you do not have at least a qualification in the core subjects, it is difficult to get into universities or similar jobs, unless you have lots of relevant experience which will override this need. See this Think Student guide on how to sit GCSEs privately.
However, not doing GCSEs may mean that you get more time to study subjects and areas you feel very passionate about, especially if you have strong interests in one particular area. This can actually benefit you later in life, as specialist knowledge in some areas is highly sought after by universities and some careers. If you are highly motivated to gain alternative skills, not having GSCEs should not set you back in your future.
How do you do your GCSEs if you are home schooled?
While it is not compulsory, home-schooled students often still do GCSEs, SATs, A-Levels and other similar qualifications as part of their programme of study at home. Typically, taking an online course, studying the syllabus at home alone or with a tutor, or going into school part time for a specific subject are the ways pupils learn the required material. There are many options of courses tailored to how different people prefer to learn. Choosing a course which works for you is key to making sure you can actually pass the exam when you take it.
Many home schooled students take a staggered approach, doing one or two GCSEs at a time, rather than all at once, to allow them to focus more on the subjects. This generally means they take GCSEs over a number of years, rather than all in 2, but does not necessarily mean you will gain less GCSEs overall by the end of all of your courses. The lack of age restriction, you can start studying earlier and finish courses faster (smaller and more focussed class time means it is a more streamlined process), so you should be able to get the same number of GCSEs as any other pupil, if you wish.
Home schoolers also need to take GCSEs at a registered exam centre, which may be a school or another facility. This can usually be booked through your local authority, or a home-schooling group, and does cost money as you are entering as a private pupil. You then take the exams along with other students in controlled exam conditions and can pass and gain the same certification as all other pupils taking it at the same time across the country.
The government’s full advice on home schooling, including exam guidance, can be found in this document.
What age can you take GCSEs for home schoolers?
Home schooled students are not constrained by the same age requirements as conventionally schooled pupils. This means they can take GCSEs at any time as long as they are ready for the exam when they take it and believe they know the material to a satisfactory level.
Generally, it is recommended to only take GCSE exams up to around 3 years before typical students would take them. This means generally around the age of 12/13, as normally they are taken at 15/16 years old. For students in conventional schools, only exceptional circumstances allow students to take exams this early. An example of this is when they are native in a particular language and wish to “bank” a GCSE in it, however these do not apply to home schooled students. Older students of any age can take GCSEs, as there is no upper age limit.
The usual age requirement is only the case for traditionally schooled students rather than for home schoolers. There are no actual legal requirements, but it is still recommended that students wait until they are mature enough to understand the exam that they undertake. Some exam centres may refuse to take very young pupils, however if you believe you are ready for the exam it is rare for a centre to refuse you.
Sometimes taking a GCSE early may mean you do not get the highest grade you are capable of, or just like typical students, sometimes the exam goes badly on the day. If this happens and you wish to re-do the exam, home schooled students have the same access to retakes as students who are in schools. For more information on retakes please contact the exam centre you took your first attempt at for details of their retakes process, as this can vary from centre to centre.
A helpful guide to all things GCSE and home school can be found on this travel blog, which provides quick fire answers to many key questions.
Do you have to pay for exams if you are home schooled?
Home schooled pupils have to pay entrance and exam fees if they choose to take GCSEs or other standardised exams. They are also expected to pay for study materials and courses taken, as part of the responsibility a family takes on when they decide to home school.
Unfortunately, the fee required to do a GCSE exam varies widely across the country and in different centres. This is because some are for-profit, whereas some provide a more charitable service and their rates vary accordingly. The different exam boards also charge different rates for different exams, adding another layer of confusion to the pricing.
If you are struggling to book exams, this handy guide from Oxford can help with how to ask exam centres about taking an exam, as well as how to get the best deal on your exam price.
How much does it cost to take GCSEs for home schoolers?
Generally, the cost of an exam has 2 parts: an exam board fee, and an administration charge. The exam board fee is a fixed charge published on the exam board website, which is paid by all pupils taking the exam either by the school on behalf of them or by their parents. For state school pupils this is covered by taxes. The administration charge is decided by the exam centre. It includes the building use cost, invigilator charges, and other key costs associated with taking an exam privately.
These factors mean the cost of taking an exam privately varies vastly from centre to centre, because the administration charge is chosen by the centre themselves. Therefore, the cost of doing a GCSE can vary from around £50 (for a charitable/community exam centre) to around £150 in some cases. If you are concerned about this it is worth asking around your local area to find the cheaper exam centre options, as they usually provide the same service, even if the price is less.
This price applies separately to each exam taken, including retakes and different subjects, so check how many exams are required for your exam and with the centre if you have other questions about exam fees. If you are concerned about the cost of exams, contact local home schooling groups and charities for more information and help on affording exams, as they usually have first-hand experience which will be helpful in applying for everyone.
Do you have to follow the national curriculum if you are home schooled?
Home schooled pupils are under no obligation to follow the national curriculum. As stated above, the only requirement for their education is that they receive a “full time, age appropriate” learning schedule, which is of course different for all pupils.
There are no legal guidelines as to what “full time” and “age appropriate” mean, but it is recommended that following your interests or any special aptitudes and talents are the best way to learn in home school. Most students show preferences for certain subjects over others, so focussing on these is a good way to remain engaged in learning. However, it is important that you develop your study in all areas, especially if you are doing GCSEs, as the cross-subject knowledge is key to later study, and to success in your exams.
If you want to have an example of what to study, the national curriculum is a good starting point for home schoolers to figure out what is age appropriate and could interest them. However, the freedom that home school affords to have real life experiences and knowledge means that you can gain a more rounded education than you would in a school, so do not be restricted by what schools usually teach to pupils.
It is also important to note that home schooled pupils often progress at a faster rate than other pupils because of the small class sizes (one family, or a small online class), and highly focussed environment that they learn in. This means that what is age appropriate for a school student may not match up, so it is important to understand your specific aptitudes and needs before sticking to a schedule of learning.
Home schooled pupils often take much less time to prepare for GCSEs than typical pupils. This can be due to more one-on-one attention from teacher, fewer distractions, more time to study each subject and higher levels of intrinsic motivation that are usually shown.
Can home schooled students go to university?
As stated above, universities do typically look for GCSE and A-Level qualifications as a condition of entry. This can make it harder for home schooled pupils who don’t do public examinations to enter universities, but it should not be a completely prohibitive factor. Home schooled pupils of all education pathways should still be able to attend universities.
Many universities can also make offers based on experience, so having a full education which happens to not include exams and can be proved is another commonly accepted pathway to university. If you have specific questions, be sure to contact your university of choice, or all your options, to ask about their home school application process, as this is a common thing for most universities to deal with.
Overall, if you have specific questions about home schooling, find your local area’s home schooling support group and join it (this can usually be found on Facebook or at your local town hall). They will have local and accurate advice which can be changed to fit your needs, making them the perfect place to go for support as a home schooler, or home schooling parent.