By law you are required to provide a full-time education suitable to age, ability, aptitude, and any special educational needs your child may have.
There is no definitive measure of suitability as each child is different. If you HE, it is up to you as a parent to decide what constitutes as ‘suitable’. For some this is a fabulously liberating prospect, and for others it is completely petrifying.
You know your own child, so decide for yourself, but for a general idea of what others get up to…
- Early Years: 0-5 year olds
- Junior Years: 4-11 year olds
- Senior Years: 11-16 year olds
- GCSEs and the like: 14+ years
- Home Education Styles & Philosophies
Learning at this age focuses on building the foundations for later learning, and although some children can read and write at this age, there is no expectation for any child to do so.
Learning through play, stories, song and everyday life are the usual approaches, but some add in more specific learning programs, such as Kumon (repetition and worksheets), or learning methods and tools as might be described by educational philosophies such as Montessori.
Some completely ignore reading and writing at this stage altogether and choose to do it when the child is older. Others try and casually familiarise the child with letters, letter sounds, single digit numbers etc. but don’t take it further until either the child expresses an interest in knowing more, or until the child has developed enough to take that knowledge further. And some may go straight into formal ‘sit down’ teaching.
There is no right and wrong way as every child is a unique experiment, but many studies do suggest that for (possibly) most children, formal teaching too young can have negative effects: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201505/early-academic-training-produces-long-term-harm
Children develop very differently at every stage, so when you compare children’s learning, you are rarely comparing like with like. However, it can sometimes be reassuring to know what the national curriculum says. However, I warn you, it is not a page turner.:
Early years Foundation stage profile – up to and including reception year: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/early-years-foundation-stage-profile-2018-handbook
Art (and writing)
A child is never too young to create, be it a mud pie, a tidy pile of bricks, or a ‘Picasso inspired’ playdoh sculpture, but some do hold with the idea that you should not put a pencil/pen in a child’s hands until all the muscles to use that tool have developed. Just as many would probably disagree.
If in doubt, read around the subject, watch your child seeing what does and doesn’t work for them, and then make your own mind up. After all, there is always finger painting.
Websites that may (or may not) be of help: https://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/developmental-pencil-grips.html
You are never too young for a story. Early on, most HEors focus on enjoying literature rather than the reading/write side, so finding books the child likes, and spending time looking through them with the child tends to be most HEors top priority at this stage. Talking about books, looking at pictures in books, visiting libraries, listening to audio books etc. just everything that normalises books and stories is the usual.
Some children just get it and you can rush straight in with your A-level textbook while others need more time. For those that are happy to go at the general UK speed of learning, there are simple workbooks for 3+, but many prefer the hands on approach of say, counting pennies, weighing out in cooking, cutting apples up into bits etc.
There is no norm of what is expected for maths early years in HE.
Music and Language
Some will start music lessons and language lessons at this age, but again more often than not in an informal teaching style, with methods such as Suzuki or learning language through play being preferred.
Science, cooking, gardening, sewing, sculpture (Play Doh) etc. all tend to be taught as hands-on activities at this age, and generally under the subject title of ‘fun’. Motivation for tackling these subjects tend to be because you are doing it anyway. If the child doesn’t enjoy it, most move on to something that they do enjoy.
To be socialised just mean to mix with other and to be able to behave in a way that is socially acceptable to society.
HEed 4-6 year olds, like all others 4-6 year olds, at one time or another fall short of the mark on behaving in a way that is socially acceptable to society, so the upside is that whatever your child does, someone else’s has probably done worse.
There is huge variety at this age, just like you would expect to see in any reception class, but if you think you have any serious issues, or the problems don’t seem to improve over time, talk to your health care visitor or GP. Behaviour may be a sign of something else going on with your child, such as learning difficulties, or physical health problems.
As for mixing with others, there are a number of HE groups that start up for this age group. Generally, they focus on outside play, stories, craft, singing, nature and ‘sport’, and are really an extension of what they may have done in toddler groups and pre-schools.
If I am really honest, HE has higher than its fair share of middle-aged women who get off on craft, and I have no shame in saying I am one of them. As a result, most of the primary educators in the HE world would describe speed knitting as a sport and running as something you do to catch a bus. There are ‘sport’ activities for all ages of HE, but the focus is usually on team work, having fun, moving one foot and then the other, working out which way is left and which is the other left, not crying when you don’t get the pink one and taking turns. If you really value sport, in the very conventional sense of the word, you are best looking at after school/ out of school local community activities, such as ballet, dance, football, rugby, gymnastics, swimming etc, and even then, in this age group, the focus is usually on having fun rather than creating an athletic machine. Don’t worry all you Judy Murrays out there, your time will come.
At this age, the HE world tends to be highly cross-curricular. The emphasis is on development and learning, rather than trying to learn anything specific.
If you have any concerns about thinking that your child is not developing as you would expect, be it physical, social, ‘educational’ or in terms of communication, you can go and talk to your health care visitor or GP.
More information about developmental delay can be found here: https://contact.org.uk/advice-and-support/medical-information/all-about-diagnosis/developmental-delay/
In the school system, this breaks down into Key stage 1 (years 1 and 2, ages 5 to 7) and Key stage 2 (years 3 – 6, ages 7 to 11).
In home education there is no such distinction or expected standard, it is just what your individual child is interested in/able to do at that point in their lives.
Most parents completely ignored the national curriculum. Not for any anarchistic tendencies, but just a) it is boring, and b) it somehow doesn’t seem relevant. Many HEed children are far advanced in some areas and have yet to look at others. Their style and method of learning just doesn’t fit the curriculum, but if you are wanting it…
The national curriculum: https://www.gov.uk/national-curriculum/key-stage-1-and-2
Skills, knowledge and ability of children at this age vary greatly in the HE community. Some will still not be able to read and write, can’t sit still, have minimal concentration, have problem behaviour, meltdowns and generally struggle to function both inside and out of the house. Others are competing nationally in their chosen sport, acting in the West End, working towards their first set of GCSEs, have grade 6 in at least two instruments, and can list every capital city in the world.
Most children sit quite comfortably in their own space between these two extremes.
Children can’t help but learn, even if it is mummy and daddy’s colourful use of language, and there is so much they need to know by the time they reach adulthood (probably not mummy and daddy’s colourful use of language), for most things it really makes little or no difference what order they do it in.
For most HEed children, if they aren’t learning what you would expect from a conventional UK education, they will be learning other things, such as how to climb up trees, dice a carrots, make up stories to themselves, make friends etc. (Sadly, none of that is in the national curriculum.) Children who are learning how to sit down and write out science experiments are children not learning how to philosophise about the democratic election process, who are children who are not learning how to live a self-sufficient life etc. There is only so much you can fit into any one day, so home educators pick and choose their own learning priorities for their children.
Some HEors follow a curriculum, some have their own philosophies about what should and shouldn’t be learnt at certain ages, so they follow that, others just follow the child’s interests and will go into quite some depth, while others follow topics as they arise, learn in quite a cross-curricular way, often with many hands-on experiences, such as numerous ‘school trips’ and ‘practicals’.
Most probably do a mixture of all of the above to a lesser or greater extent.
As learning tends to be so varied between families, home educated children generally do not compare themselves academically against their peers at this stage. This is because a) you don’t get the same benchmarks as you would get in school e.g. tests and certificates, so comparisons can get a little difficult to make and b) as everyone’s lives and interests are so different, very few people are doing the same things at the same time, so no one can see how far along anyone else it. It is far more common to see academic rivalry occurring between siblings. The closer in age the siblings are, the more pronounced this becomes.
On the up side, your friends are not your academic rivals. Most home educators and their children wish everyone well in all their endeavours. Someone else’s success is not your failure and vice versa. Children can also have great confidence in their own abilities as the praise they receive is not undermined by someone else doing better. (There is much evidence that suggests that if a child is told they are a genius, they start to believe it, work harder and eventually produce results that would support that statement.)
On the down side, without benchmarks and other children to compare yourself to, some children think they are useless because they find somethings difficult. They are unaware that everyone finds something difficult when they first learn, and they start to give up. They can also start comparing themselves with older siblings, adults and trained professionals, all of which can reinforce the idea that the child is somehow lacking compared to others, further undermining an already low esteem.
How a child will react to the absence of direct competition will vary from child to child. On the whole most do better for its absence, and learn to run their own race, but that is not true for everyone.
Art, Craft and Design
This age group are pretty much willing to explore (and equally reject) anything you put in front of them, but art is generally somewhere near the top of the list. Great resources both in Cambridge and surrounding area and London.
There is always demand for art groups for this age group. Some like the structure of a set project, such as the Explore and Discover Arts Award (easily do-able throughout the Fitzwilliam museum), but others prefer a more free-flow approach.
Costs can be next to nothing if you have a parent able and willing to pull everything together, to £15+ an hour for each person in a group if you get a teacher in.
It is not uncommon for some families to avoid arts and crafts all together, usually because the primary HEing parent doesn’t feel confident in that area (the exact same thing can be said for any subject, but for some reason ‘I can’t do maths’, and ‘I’m not creative’ seem to be the top ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!” areas) but generally speaking, if it is not embraced at this age, the child will probably not come back to it later as a career choice (it is very difficult to ‘compete’ with fellow artists at GCSE and A-Level grade who have been doing art all their lives, if you have just started), however there are no nevers in HE, and someone will always prove you wrong. Moving away from doors is not the same as shutting them…
Even at this stage, maths and English tend to be people’s panic areas as most people are only too well aware that in order to do most things post 16 you need a minimum of GCSE maths and English language. For this reason a huge number use workbooks to cover these subject. At junior school level, it is perfectly possible to get through a whole academic years work for English and maths combined in three months by doing a maximum of two hours work a week.
Workbooks are usually supplemented with other HE groups, educational tools or learning experiences.
It is fairly easy to find an HE activity for this age group for English, or if not, you can easily find enough people who would be willing to join a group you set up or help start one up with you.
The Cambridge literary festival can be a great resource, although to see an author is always expensive – generally around the £10 mark, per person. They have a spring and autumn festival. http://www.cambridgeliteraryfestival.com
The Cambridge Festival of Ideas can also be a great resource crossing over all the humanities and occasionally giving a little nod to the sciences if that year’s theme happens to combine the two. Most lectures and activities are free, and there is always something directed at children. It runs in the autumn. https://www.festivalofideas.cam.ac.uk
Geography, anthropology, earth sciences and nature studies
All very, very popular subjects at this level in HE and generally strongly facilitated by parents of children in this age group.
There are often voluntary run community groups that follow this line of education, which is greatly helped by having such fabulous resources on our doorstep, such as the Botanical gardens, Wimpole, Cambridge museums, Paxton Pits, Milton Country Park, Anglesey Abbey etc. etc.
Easy to start up, will nearly always get the numbers to make it worth your while, if you can’t find a group currently doing something in this field that would interest you and your family do consider organising your own. It is not as hard as you might think.
By year 6, some are well on the way to communicating with the world in multiple tongues, while others never try anything more exotic than estuary English.
The biggest thing that holds people back from doing languages in HE is cost. If you cannot do it yourself, you are looking at paying a tutor possibly £25 a week for the next 5 – 10 years. It is cheaper to do it in groups, but generally not as good as one on one.
Some have done six-month language exchanges, but if they are going to do this most wait until senior school age. The upside is you get a child fluent in a foreign language in just six months, the down side (or possibly upside again, depending on how you look at things) is you lose your child to another family in a foreign country for six months. It also cost a fair bit and you have to take the other family’s child for six months too.
There is no distinct age at which most home educators learn to read, but again anecdotally speaking, the vast majority are probably reading independently by about 7/8. However, it is far from uncommon to see some children start later.
There are arguments that children that learn to write later have a better ‘writing style’ as they haven’t picked up the sloppy ‘bad habits’ that children who have been writing for a long time do, but on the other hand, learning later can lead to frustration and a reluctant writer.
There really is no right and wrong. It is entirely child/parent/family dependent. Different children even within the same family can get very different outcomes.
Some say that your child will naturally learn to read, spell and punctuate all on their own if you read to them a lot, but many have found that not to be the case. As ever, it is completely child dependent. Some say learning to read should never be a battle, they will all get there in their own time if you make it a positive experience. Others say that their child would never have learnt to read if they hadn’t battled them early on. Obviously, there is no way to prove it either way, so take comfort in knowing you can never be proved wrong. It is really a question of which method do you have the most faith in, and if you loose heart part way through, switch.
As ever, most will probably do some combination of the two, with lost of carrots and sticks being bandied about all over the place, creating a ‘unique learning environment’. My youngest rather liked coffee shops as his ‘unique learning environment’, however, given the number of students working in there, I question the ‘unique’ aspect.
There are loads of wonderful on-line programs, sites and the like for helping you to teach your child to read, and millions of reading schemes.
The Cambridge libraries stock quite a few different schemes and you can often buy a whole reading scheme at a greatly reduced amount through The Book People, who often sell to parents through schools: www.thereadingpeople.co.uk.
Sometime bits are sold through the local HE forums second hand, and charity shops are always a real winner.
There is a real range in how this is taught at this stage in HE land. Workbooks are very popular, and are a surefire way of making sure you are meeting the national curriculum. However, many say that you can learn everything that is in the KS1/2 maths curriculum through everyday life and games.
I would say most probably do a bit of everything and not too much of anything.
There are some who find their child can/want to go much further, much quicker in this subject. If your child ‘gets’ maths, that is quite do-able.
Occasionally, maths HE groups pop up, but generally speaking there are fewer HEing parents wandering around with a maths degree than an English or science degree. Few feel comfy leading groups on subjects they don’t feel passionate about, and so maths usually remains a solitary occupation.
A handful might use a tutor or on-line school for this level, but it is not the norm.
Many HEed children have individual music lessons by the time they are in this age group, but by no means all.
Music is very expensive, not only for the lessons and exams, but also the instruments themselves. A cheaper alternative is often to find another child/teenager/student who is from grade 4 up to start teaching your child the basics, at a greatly reduced price. Some HEed families will advertise their lessons on the local HE forums, and prices tend to be around £5 a lesson (as opposed to a trained teacher which is around £16+ a lesson), but equally, you can ask on the lists and see if anyone is willing to come forward and take on the job of teaching your child.
Local music groups that are popular with many local HEed children include Holiday Orchestra: http://holidayorchestra.co.uk/wordpress_f/ , Saffron Centre for Young Musicians: https://www.saffroncym.org and King’s Junior Voices: http://www.kingsjuniorvoices.org.
Other music workshops and events, but by no means all, are Stapleford Granary: https://staplefordgranary.org.uk and Cambridgeshire Music: https://www.cambridgeshiremusic.org.uk/pages/discover-music/
There are plenty of activities and interest in these types of activity for this age group. These can include anything and just depend on who is willing to organise them at the time. Ones that have been coming up a lot recently have included carpentry, horse handling, gardening, sewing, cookery, and IT.
Some follow workbooks at this level, although most probably choose to do science through their own experiments, resources or groups.
In Cambridge, there is also the Launchpad program (http://cambridge-launchpad.com) that works with Cambridge schools, the Cambridge Young Astronomers (http://www.caa-cya.org/events.php?who=cya) and we benefit hugely from the Cambridge Science Festival that runs in February and is organised by the University, with most events being free (https://www.sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk).
For this age group there are a huge number of trip, groups and meet-ups organised, and it is usually a matter of holding yourself back from taking on too much. However, there is always room for more!
As for social behaviour… People who don’t know any HEing families will often judge HEed children harsher than others, as they are not sure they agree with the principle of HE, so are looking for the failings rather than the successes, but the general themes that keep coming back are: HEed children are emotional young and academically advanced; and HEed children are very mature and academically poor. These are both completely true and completely false representations of HEed children…
Some will confuse the reasons why a child might be HEed for the results of HEing; summer birthday children and those with a slight developmental ‘delay’ will naturally not appear as advanced as ‘average’ school children from the same academic year group. There are no stats on HE, but it is generally accepted that HE has a higher percentage of children that don’t fit the industry standard, because if they did, they would be in mainstream school. This is not the result of HE, but a consequence of state education not being able to meet the needs of everyone.
The other side of this is that there are children in HE who are exceptionally advanced, and again, the state system is not able to meet their specific needs, hence their choice to HE.
People can be very confused in how a child can be intelligent, but lacking in language skills or illiterate. Again, this isn’t really a home ed issue, but more a general societal lack of awareness in how learning difficulties like dyslexia can manifest.
Going for big sweeping statements now (as if I haven’t already made enough), having more 1-2-1 adult/child interaction enables many HEed children to have very advanced vocabulary, and an ability to talk to adults like an equal, but without peer pressure, there is no expectation for a child to behave or play in an expected way. This means some behaviour can be seen as being very immature, because society has come to accept school norms as societal, and by extension developmental, norm.
As HE has no strict social hierarchy like you would experience in school, some children can also be perceived as being precocious in how they talk to adults, with society expecting children to treat adults as their superiors, and for children to be somewhat diffident in sharing their successes with others. While other children are still clinging on to their parent’s trouser leg and hiding away, and they too get judged by wider society but this time for being mollycoddled.
HE carried a high number of children with undiagnosed or borderline learning difficulties. It also has children from every walk of life, country, family background and religion you can think of. As you would expect, this will be evident in everyone’s individual behaviour, but far from being a problem, it provides the opportunity for all HEed children to be tolerant, understanding and respectful of those that are different to them, allowing for a greater level of socialisation than you might find in an one specific state school.
As they say, when you have met one HEed family, you have met one HEed family. They are all different as are their children. Each parent socialises their child as they see fit – on this front, there are no HE industry standard.
In the school system, this breaks down into Key stage 3 (years 7 to 9, ages 11 to 14) and Key stage 4/GCSE (years 10 and 11, ages 14 to 16).
This is the stage where everyone suddenly panics when their kids hit year 7, buy up every textbook and workbook going and then never open them or use them in any way other than as bookends. It is a time honoured ritual and does wonders for your sense of well-being.
That is not entirely true; maths and English more often than not get used, and we did do the first page of our history book, but more often than not, comforting, reassuring dust collectors.
By this time 99.999% have ditched even trying to look at the national curriculum – they are just too dull (but should you want it: https://www.gov.uk/national-curriculum/key-stage-3-and-4 , but they will do other thinks that follow much of the same material as the curriculum, such as using workbooks, online schools, taking up tutors in the subjects they know they want to cover at GCSE, but don’t feel able to teach the subject to their child themselves, etc. For the most part, people continue with what they were doing when their child was in year 6 and then move straight on to GCSEs when ready.
At this stage, a lot of people start cutting out the things that their children don’t enjoy. The main subjects that stay are the core subjects that people often take for GCSE, and any others that are of specific interest to the child.
This works fabulously for some, particularly those that don’t ever plan to take an academic route, but occasionally, now grown-up home educatees have been heard to say that they wished their parents had made them do subjects that they didn’t, because they felt they didn’t have the basic knowledge that other people had when they went on to do further and higher education.
Unfortunately, time and money do not allow more HEors to offer the range of subjects they might like, so at some point you do have to pick and choose. This is exactly the same as schooled children who only go on to study 5 – 10 subjects at GCSE, but when you take the full responsibility for everything, rather than a system, you can often feel you are failing regardless of the reality of things. Having a list of priorities for your child’s education and closing your eyes to the world around you really help. Plotting out possible exams/future careers/academic routes for your teen can also help alleviate the stress of feeling you are floundering around in the dark. Your child doesn’t have to take any of those routes, but it does give you the comfort of knowing there is a future for children regardless of whether they get 13 A*/9s by the time they are 14 or not. (Click here to look at the file on careers – there are some fab websites out there that you can start to look at from day one.)
At this age, children who come out of the school system are often carrying a lot of emotional baggage, sometimes health concerns and not too irregularly, trauma. In these situations, those that push the academic before solving the other concerns generally go backwards rather than forwards.
It is usually said that a child needs a month of not doing any formal work for every year in school they have had. If there are emotional or physical concerns, this often has to be longer.
Taking a year or two out at this stage really isn’t a problem. It is perfectly easy to catch up later, when the child is in the right frame of mind to be able to cope with the demands of academic learning. Some skip academia altogether and wait until the teen is able to do catch-up GCSEs at college and apprenticeships.
As children head towards GCSEs, academic rivalry does start to rear its ugly head, no matter how much you try and keep it at bay. Not surprisingly, this can also come from parents.
As a parent, this can get emotionally very difficult as there is a very fuzzy line in HE between who is an acquaintance, a colleague and a friend. Parents will gauge how well they are doing as an HEor by seeing how well your child is doing academically. It is completely irrational, but ultimately, the vast majority of us feel inadequate, judged and fraudulent an uncomfortably large amount of the time, so it is quite understandable. It is so much easier to support each other in a detached manner when your children are at different stages, but you do need the support of other people going through the same thing as you too. There are no quick fixes to this as it is so much a personal issue, just lots of compassion and self-awareness. We are all guilty of looking over the fence every now and again, but too much looking over the fence always spread back to the children, and puts huge pressure on to them to achieve.
Art, Craft and Design
People either drop them completely or start to take things to the next level. Groups doing these kinds of activities stop around this age, so arts, crafts and the like become more of a solitary activity.
The Bronze, Silver and Gold Arts Awards are often a winner and can be done separately or as a group. Groups are far more motivational for those completing the awards (it is a lot of work if you do them properly, but you can squeeze through with the bare minimum if you feel so inclined), but getting the commitment from other families can be tricky.
Workbooks are still a big feature for this age group. English groups are also very common. Some colleges will do course for home ed children and those excluded from school from about 14, with the aim of taking the GCSE at 16.
Tutors are not uncommon, and neither are on-line school and courses.
Geography and similar
Things start to take a more academic turn with people looking towards GCSEs, but many will also drop these kinds of activities and subjects as they are not necessary for many career paths. Nature studies is normally the first to go.
If you haven’t already been doing a language from a younger age, a few take one up in year 7, others wait a bit longer and then do the GCSE from scratch in about 2 years, and the rest generally don’t do one at all.
Tutors (Skype or in person) or groups tend to be the preferred option, as although you can do languages through on-line schools and textbook getting exact pronunciation etc. is easier if someone can pick up the subtleties of what you say in person or one-on-one.
Ancient languages often start to sneak in at this sort of age, with Latin being the most common.
Workbooks. And then more workbooks.
Tutors, online course and online schools are increasingly common as the children get older. Not necessarily because they are needed, but because parents are so aware that for most future directions, their children really need maths and ideally the best grade in maths you can get.
At 14+ there are courses in some colleges for HEed children and those unable to attend main stream schooling, with the aim of getting them to pass their maths and English GCSE in a couple of years time.
At this stage people tend to be doing it because they love it, or leaving it altogether.
Some use workbooks or online courses at this age, a couple may use a tutor, but for the most part, people tend to still stick with groups for science.
Those that think they may want to take science further after GCSE will often start to put a lot more work into the subject at this stage, but most have it as a kind of ‘back-burner’ (or should that be ‘bunsen burner’?) subject. Often the science they are less keen on starts to get dropped in a quiet, unconscious way.
The Science festival is still very popular for this age group, but the lectures start to take precedents over the hands-on activities (https://www.sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk). Those that are still into astronomy, or have recently taken up a passion for physics get a lot out of the public open evenings at the Institute of Astronomy (https://www.public.ast.cam.ac.uk).
Social groups become really important at this stage, but due to demand, the older the child gets the more difficult it can be to get your child into an HE group if you are new to HE.
If you can get into a group, this is often where the friendships start to build, both with the children and the adults themselves.
Unfortunately, you cannot pick and choose the people you would like to be home educating when your child is, so some years will have a glut of one sex, while simultaneously only having one or two of the other sex, some years are very sparse and others are massive bulge years. You child might find their perfect buddy, but equally they might have to just ‘make do’ with the company that is available. This is the same for all life, so it is great training for just learning to get on with whoever is about, but it does also mean that some children can feel quite lonely. It is for this reason that many children take up activities outside of the HE community to mix with people who are of a very similar age and have the same interests as them.
There is often a sizeable number that leave HE and try school in year 7, and of these, a few each year tend to come back to HE. For those that have always been in school, but come out of school to be HEed, at this stage it is nearly always due to stress, bullying, emotional trauma etc. etc. Very rarely are these children emotionally able to just go into socialising with the HEed children. Each child and their situation is very different, so this may very well not apply to an specific child, but if one was to generalise, many of these children need their sense of well-being recalibrated before they feel comfortable actively mixing in the HE community, and to push things too soon can often lead to resentment of the other HEed children. It is a very different environment and for those that have been conditioned to a school system and culture, suddenly adjusting to what is considered ‘normal’ in the HE world can just be too much.
The older they are when they come out of school, the less likely they are to ever try and integrate into the HE world. This isn’t a negative thing, it is just finding what is right for any one individual as they muddle their way up towards adulthood.
GCSEs and the like
In HE, people take GCSEs when they are ready, rather than when the rest of their academic year are taking them.
Sadly, a lot of the fun of HE vanishes when you are working towards exams. It has its moments when you work in a group towards a qualification or go on trips that support the work you are doing, but for the most part, you find yourself stuck at a kitchen table looking through textbooks far more than you would like.
Generally, people find you can do the black and white/right or wrong subjects much earlier than the essay subjects, where maturity appears to be the biggest factor in what grade you get. So, subjects like maths, the sciences, geography, environmental management and languages can often get done early, and subjects like English and Religious Studies get completed later.
However, people also try to leave the subjects they are planning to take at A-level until last, so that they get continuity and don’t have time to forget all they have learnt in that subject before moving up to the next level.
Some do all their GCSEs in one go at 16/17, others spread them out over multiple years. As a parent, it is much easier if your child does them over three or so years as switching between teaching/marking that many subjects can lead you to a break down, not to mention financial insolvency (yup, you really do have to pay for each and every exam your child takes yourself, generally between £100-200 a GCSE subject), particularly if you have other children to consider. However, some have said that they have had trouble when applying to certain universities and colleges as their exams were done over multiple years.
Many hire a tutor for the odd subject, some use online course, and of course there is the odd over-achiever who can do every subject ever invented, incredibly well and all on their own. As you might have guessed, that is sadly not me and my children.
Most HEor have historically opted for IGCSEs (International GCSEs) as the GCSEs used to carry coursework which you could not easily get marked for as an external candidate, but now that the coursework element has gone from a lot of subjects, HEors have much more choice. However, not all exam centres will do all boards.
Most HEors flit between CAIE, Edexcel and AQA, but not all boards do all subjects, and even if they do, they will have different syllabuses/syllabi, so you have to look through them all to see which is the best fit for your child.
This website is invaluable for anyone taking exams: https://he-exams.wikia.org/wiki/HE_Exams_Wiki, as is this recording of the HEQA (Home Educator’s Qualifications Association) Q&A webinar from 14th April 2022, entitled ‘Getting Started With Exams for Home Educators’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkWeArAqqH0.
There are also multiple support groups for HE families taking exams on Facebook, both generally and for specific subjects.
Or syllabi for those of you who like your latin.
As syllabus information gets very exam/subject specific, I’m just going to give you the general here…
When picking your syllabus, have a look at what others have written in the HE Exams Wiki first, https://he-exams.wikia.org/wiki/HE_Exams_Wiki. There is so much useful information in there, it can really make a difference when picking and choosing. But unfortunately, there is no easy way round it, you do have to look through each syllabus for the subjects you are interested in yourself and then compare and contrast them across all boards. It is long, boring and you think you are loosing your mind. You find yourself fretting over whether you should do the course that has 50 past papers to look through or 51, and whether you should choose the board that asks you to do two 1.5 hr exams or one 1hr and one 2hr exam. It is at the point when you are splitting hairs over the smallest thing that you then decide to throw it all in and just opt for one board for everything, as then at least you know you (probably) won’t end up with an exam clash. (People doing multiple boards, really have to check before hand whether the exams they are doing are going to be at the same time or not. Unfortunately, the exam boards only give you a probably exam timetable when you book in with exam centres, but they can, and at times do, revise them nearer the time, so you can still find yourself having to talk to the exam centre and trying to find a way round it.
Those who really, really don’t want exam clashes may take their exams at different times of the year (not all exam centres offer this), but it is possible to take exams in May, October and January.
You also need to double check the syllabus has not just changed or is about to change. This is made clear when you click on the syllabus which will be available from the exam boards’ websites. The change isn’t a bad thing in itself, but if you wanted an open ended time to work for the exam you may be limited by when that specific exam was coming to an end, and you can’t necessarily use the old past papers for revision practise if the old ones are too dissimilar to the revised syllabus. Generally, they are not hugely different, but just sometimes it can make things very difficult for you if your child relies on them a lot. (Past papers are available for free on the internet, but printing will up a huge amount of paper and ink.)
Those subjects that are reliant on coursework, such as drama, art, music etc. are often quite tricky for HEors to take, as finding an exam centre that will take you as an external candidate is near to impossible, so many opt for doing a Gold Arts Award instead. If you are looking at continuing into A-level at college, you do have to check that the college will accept that as a substitute, but for the very determined, doing the actual GCSE is not unknown.
Many subjects that have a practical element, such as the sciences and geography, offer an ‘alternative to coursework’ option when you register for taking an IGCSE. These papers are usually 45 mins long and fairly straightforward. It helps if you can actually have a go at doing the practical at home before hand, but watching YouTube demonstrations, revision and past papers is often enough.
For maths and the sciences, you will also have to decide between the ‘core’ or the ‘extended’ syllabus. The core syllabus is easier, but your top possible mark is a grade 5/C . The extended syllabus allows you to go right up to an 9/A* but any mark below a 3 is ungraded.
The syllabus will recommend a number of texts to follow. Really, you want the most up to date, but at times the formatting of the book is so poor that it can be pretty unusable. If you can look though other people’s before you commit to any one specific textbook do, as they get very expensive. The books generally say all say the same stuff, it just comes down to which style you like the most. Most people jump between several and take different bits from different books.
You can do it all without, most do, but you might not necessarily feel comfortable doing that.
We pay for a tutor for English, because I’m pants at it, and that seems to be working for us… but maybe I will change my mind when we get the exam result. Others use online schools, such as Wolsey Hall, but these generally have very mixed reviews.
If you do feel you need a tutor, getting personal recommendation is nearly always the best option, and many can recommend tutors that teach over the internet, which means you are not limited to your local supply of tutors. There are HE facebook groups specifically for finding tutors, but I have had little luck on those, and find it better to ask on the national HE exam forums and local HE forums.
You can get quite far just with books, if your child is motivated, but that is a really big ‘if’ and the fear of most HEors as their children near the age of exam sitting. However, if they want to get to the next stage of their career/academic life (and the vast majority do), they will become motivated because there is no other way around it. If they want to go to college they will have to work, because the colleges won’t let them in without the grades. If your off-spring is still not motivated, it may be worth looking at other roots and options, as it could be a sign that this is the wrong direction for them. It might well be that they need a path that doesn’t use exams at all. It will be difficult without the maths and English, but not impossible, so don’t lose heart, it may just require a bit more creative thinking to solve.
GCSEs/iGCSEs are just a means to an end, so when you think about how many and which ones you want to do, it is sometimes easier to work backwards and look at where you want to be and what you need to get there. If say university is your end aim, and you plan to get there via 6th form college, just see what you need to get into your local college. Many sixth form colleges only need 6 GCSEs (or equivalent). Some apprenticeships will take you with just a couple of GCSEs, as will some BTEC courses in FE colleges.
It is also possible for 14 and 15 year old children who are normally educated at home to attend state-funded FE colleges (including sixth form colleges) on a part-time basis to receive tuition in specific subjects. FE colleges can claim funding for this activity from the Education and Skills Funding Agency. If you are interested in this you should ask the college concerned if it has any such arrangements, however, the college is under no obligation to do this.
The National Careers Service is a free careers service for adults and young people aged 13 and over in England. Advice and guidance can be accessed via the telephone and online. The National Careers Service provides confidential advice and guidance to help your child make decisions on learning, training and work opportunities. The National Careers Service website can be accessed at: https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/Pages/Home.aspx
A-levels, other international qualifications and Open University can and are also done at home by HEed teens, but due to the complexity and the financial burden of completing these types of qualifications at home, far fewer HEors continue to HE after year 11. As a result, most HEors’ social groups are with community groups outside of HE.
For HE options at 16+ look at the careers post in resources (https://www.thecambridgehomeeducator.com/careers-links/) and the HE Exams wiki ( https://he-exams.wikia.org/wiki/HE_Exams_Wiki).
Home Education Styles & Philosophies
A-Z HE Styles & Philosophies
No two HEors will HE exactly the same way, and very few will ever fit the exact description of a style of HE, in fact, most probably wouldn’t even say that they had a ‘style’, but there are a number of themes and philosophies that come up time and time again, so here are the basics…
Activity-Based Learning (Learning Through ‘School’ Trips):
The idea is that you do hundreds of ‘school’ trips and the child (and often parent) learns from people that really know what they are on about, i.e. tour guides, experts etc. Also supplemented by lots of hands-on, practical activities at home.
Autonomous Learning (also known as unschooling and child-led learning):
I don’t want to say the kid just does what it wants, as that sounds rather flippant, but in short that is pretty much what it is.
Please note, this is not the same as neglect. Neglect is not caring what the child does and doing nothing to help facilitate their learning. Autonomous education/learning is a well thought out educational philosophy. It is child-led, with the child learning when they are ready, and the parent only ever acting as a facilitator. The idea is that the child learns how to learn, rather than learning anything specific.
To be honest, it is not one for the faint hearted. You have to really trust that your child will get there and let them do it in their own time. The one draw back is that if they don’t, you will only find out when it is too late… Oh! and you get heckled a lot form the sidelines, but when it works, it seems to really work. Swings and roundabouts.
You’d never guess, but named after someone called ‘Charlotte Mason’. She was all into nature, broad spectrum learning and ‘living books’ (I’m afraid I can’t really give you any more detail about them, as I still don’t fully understand what they are, but it has something to do with not mixing your subject matter in one text, and only reading books by people who did another job before they became an author.)
If you ignore the picture of the lady who has clearly nicked all her child’s Ritalin tablets, this site is quite good if you are wanting to know more: https://thejoyfilledmom.com/charlotte-mason-learning/
Child-Led Learning: see Autonomous Learning
Grammar, rhetoric and logic. This site explains it quite nicely: https://www.thehomeschoolmom.com/homeschooling-styles/classical-homeschooling/
The taking time-out of all formal education period done when you have just come out of school. It is generally advised that you take one month out for every year in school. No idea who came up with this figure… actually, I don’t think anyone does, but it is reported a lot and followed by many with no ill-effects, so it keeps being said. It is only ever meant as a guideline, so some do it for longer, others for less time, or even no time.
It really follows the thinking of unschooling or autonomous learning, where all learning is child-led with not formal book work, desks, learning hours etc.
It has been known to be a life savour for many just coming out of school. Some only need a week out, others have to have years of unstructured learning, but anything over a year starts being relabelled as autonomous learning.
Following courses as set out by external educational institutions, e.g. online schools, Open University etc.
Some have better feedback than others, so if you are thinking of using one, it’s worth asking around.
Forest School/Outdoor Learning:
You need good outdoor clothing for this one. There are plenty of forest schools in the local area offering sessions to all ages, but there is no reason why you can’t do it entirely by yourself in your own back garden. The idea is you hang out in nature. A lot. There is an underlying philosophy to accompany all that fresh air, which is worth reading if you want to get the most out of it, but please note, it does get chilly in the winter months.
Generally not advertised on the big lists, but are essentially groups of like-minded HEors coming together to teach their children as a group. Most tend to be once a week. They all have very different styles and approaches to learning.
Click here to read more about how to start your own HE co-op.
You do have to be careful that you don’t meet up so often as to become an illegal school, but most HEors don’t have enough time for that anyway.
Click here to read more about illegal schools.
Focusing very heavily on an academic subject, possibly at the expense of studying other subjects. This is what you do if you want to produce a ‘genius’… but generally there is only time to do it in one or two subjects.
My personal favourite. Nick a bit of everything, and redefine it as your own. OK, it’s not the technical name for it, but it sounds so much more fun than ‘hybrid’ or ‘fusion’ HEing…
Named after Maria Montessori. Loads of pre-schools follow this approach, but very few schools are Montessori. It seems to be interpreted one of two ways: controlled and anal, or free and liberal. Either way, nature should feature a lot, as should practical activities and games that prepare you for the big wide world. Even learning to read is a hands-on activity with making the shapes in sand, finger painting or playing with wooden letters. There are a huge number of Montessori materials out there, used by both prescriptive followers and those that like to dabble in multiple educational styles.
This site describes it well: https://www.montessori.org.uk/about-us/what-is-montessori
This site gives a lot of info and advice about where to get materials from: https://themontessorifamily.com/where-to-buy-montessori-toys-and-montessori-material-in-the-uk/
And this one is quite good too: https://livingmontessorinow.com/free-montessori-materials-online/
Pulled together by the government for the use of all state schools, but it is optional in academies. private schools and home education.
Most have a look through at some point, but it gets very boring, very quickly, so few religiously follow it.
Paying someone else to do it. Can be distance learning, but can also be private tutors, both online and in person.
If this is the approach you are considering, getting personal recommendation can be a God send. Ask on the HE lists.
Learning through play. Often done in the first part of a child’s education, and is taken up by many of the educational philosophies on this page. Sadly it goes out of fashion in the teen years, which is actually the time when they really could do with knowing how to ‘play’ at sweeping the floor like Mummy and Daddy.
Not convinced? This is quite a good account: https://resilienteducator.com/classroom-resources/play-based-learning/
Project-Based Learning (PBL) (also known as interest-led Learning):
Known as ‘unit studies’ in the US, it is a cross-curricular approach to learning whereby you following a project the interests you, looking at the focus from many subject perspectives, and take it right through to its natural conclusion. Although focusing on a single topic, the project will follow many strands of investigation, generally including history, geography, art, maths, literature and politics, in one form or another, depending on the child/parent’s interests and the resources that present themselves. Can be self-directed or parent-directed.
Good list of ideas to get you started: https://craftedcurriculum.com/20-of-the-best-project-based-learning-ideas-for-2020/
It’s self-directed project-based learning really, but with a whole philosophy behind it.
This site tells you more, but to be honest, not much more – too many flouncy nonsensical words: https://www.reggiochildren.it/en/reggio-emilia-approach/
This one is of more practical help: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/reggio-emilia-approach/
Steiner (also known as the Waldorf approach):
Named after a guy called Waldorf Steiner. If you go back to the origins there are weird space aliens and the like, but few go back that far. It focuses on developing a child’s imagination, free thinking and social responsibility. Academic subjects start creeping in in the senior years, with all earlier years focusing on creative development.
School At Home:
The American’s call it ‘traditional’ style. Those that follow this approach have a timetable, formal work structure, set work stations/desks, set break times etc. I doubt most bother with assembly, presentation day and parents evening, but there is no reason why you couldn’t… I’m personally a real stickler for no running in the corridors.
If you are thinking of taking this route, most in the UK follow the national curriculum (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/national-curriculum), but there are many others you could consider, possibly even mixing it up with other styles/philosophies of education
One man’s ‘yellow’ is another man’s ‘green’. They mean whatever you want them to mean, but generally structured means lots of sitting down at a desk doing formal work, unstructured is generally taken to mean lots of play and semi-structured is anything in between.
First off, it is much more of an American thing; I don’t think I know a single UK HEor who follows it. Secondly, not sure really I get it. It seems to be a mixture of what everyone does anyway, but with a few dead role models thrown in for good measure.
Anyway, if it is of any interest, knock yourself out: https://tjed.org/about-tjed-learning/
‘Schools’ that have four or fewer students. They are very unlikely to advertise, so you will only find out about them via word of mouth. Can be a good option for those that need very specific educational care.
Unschooling : see Autonomous Learning
Waldorf: see Steiner
Workbook Focused Learning:
Every subject covered by workbooks. This method might be used alongside any of the others, to a lesser or greater extent, or ignored completely.
If you are following the national curriculum, you will probably have most of your learning delivered through workbooks.
Like an apprenticeship, you learn what you need to for your future career and not the other stuff.
Can be really good if: you have any severe learning difficulties that mean that you would struggle hugely to pass exams; you have such a passion in something that your really don’t want to take any time away from it; or you have been left so scarred by academia that following the exams route is causing mental health concerns.
Equally it can be very difficult in current British society to follow your choice of career without the minimum of a GCSE/iGCSE or equivalent in maths and English.
Learning about the world through travelling.
Can be confined to one country/region or be world wide. People who take it up range from the international elite to the single parent in a camper van.
There are a number of online international worldschooling communities about, but if you are wanting to know more about the very basis, although US focused, this site is pretty good: https://www.time4learning.com/homeschooling-styles/worldschooling.html#what-is-worldschooling.
Difference Between An Educational Style & An Educational Philosophy
Well, the philosophy informs your decision making as an educator. It helps you define what you are trying to achieve and gives you the strategies and methods to help you achieve those goals.
Educational style, on the other hand, is how you interpret those philosophies in everyday life. For instance, my philosophy might be that of autonomous or child-led learning, but we might take a semi-structured approach, with outdoor activities in the morning, music lesson after lunch and reading in the afternoon.
The only way to really know what is going to work for you and your family is the old trial and error way: give a bit of everything a go, see what works, ditch what doesn’t and hope for the best. Good luck. See you on the other side.
Take a quiz
They’re clearly a complete load of rubbish as they had me down as a cruel and heartless task-master, but until I got to that point, they were quite a bit of fun.
eclectic-homeschool.com: What Kind of Homeschooler Are You?
homeschoolon.com: The Homeschool Style Quiz
HE Styles & Educational Philosophies Links
http://rossmountney.wordpress.com/about-home-education/ (need to skim down the page a bit to get to the philosophies section)