Personal experiences of home educators
From HE Examinations
Karen Luckhurst talked to Alex Dowty about how he got to study law at Oxford University.
Open University: one family's experience
K - studying law at Exeter
K came back from a six-month exchange with a German family (with no prior formal study of the language) and we decided that GCSE German would be pointlessly easy. We therefore looked at the Open University (OU) German courses and she started Auftakt: intermediate German (L130) at 14 years and 10 months. She went on to do Exploring the English language (U211) (at 15.5 years) and Open mathematics (MU120, now discontinued) at 16.5 years. She studied Understanding society (Y157, now discontinued) while waiting to start The arts past and present (AA100).
K applied to bricks-n-mortar universities to study law with German on the basis of having gained 130 OU points and while studying for another 60 Level 1 points. She was offered a place at Exeter University conditional on gaining at least 70% in AA100. She achieved the conditions of the offer and is studying LLB European (German)/Magister. A typical offer for this course is AAA or AAB at A level, including an A in German. The student also receives a telephone interview in German.
The OU awarded her a Certificate of Higher Education Open for 120 points of Level 1 study (L130, MU120 and AA100). Many universities will accept this as an alternative to A levels to prove that the student has met basic university entrance requirements (some courses, of course, have specific requirements).
The initial OU admissions process involved being sent a self-assessment pack for German. K worked through it and the results indicated that her German was at an appropriate level for L130. We sent those results (with covering letters from K's mother and from K explaining why she wanted to do the course) to the Staff Tutor who deals with young applicants and she OKed it. U211 has been the most difficult course for K. As a level 2 English course, it required a maturity of writing that she had not fully attained at 15.5 years. She did OK in the continuous assessment (scoring over 70%) but the exam was difficult. It was the first exam she had ever done and she only scored 43% (she had also been in circumstances that made it difficult to do specific exam practice).
J - studying with OU under 18
While K was doing U211, J (13.5 years) decided he'd like to do Life of Mammals (S182, now discontinued). In the last week of registration, we realised it was the last presentation and so we phoned up in a hurry to book him on it. He did the online self-tests for science and sent the results with covering letters to the Staff Tutor. Most science short courses can be completed over two or five months, to suit the student. J took 20 weeks over S182 because he had other things to do (including a trip to Tokyo with our EHE robotics team) in the first two months. At 14 years' old, he did Fossils and the history of life (S193) in 10 weeks; at 14.25 years, he did Planets: an introduction (S196) over 20 weeks; at 14.5 years, he did Molecules, medicines and drugs: a chemical story (SK185) over 20 weeks; and, at 15 years' old, he completed Elements of forensic science (S187) in 10 weeks. He then studied Open mathematics (MU120, now discontinued). At almost 16 years' old, he took Life in the oceans (S180, now discontinued) to complete a Certificate in Contemporary Science. In order to gain experience in essay-writing and to widen his formal education to include the humanities, he decided to take The arts past and present (AA100). He could not start that until February 2011, so he filled in with Digital worlds: designing games, creating alternative realities (T151). He does not know what he will do when he reaches 18 but he expects to have gained 160 points within 6 weeks of his 17th birthday.
General remarks about OU study under 18
Because the science short courses are about factual writing, they tend to be easier for younger people than courses that require discursive and opinionated writing. S193 is an excellent starter course as the assignment is a set of 26 multiple-choice questions. J enjoyed S182 but the assignment was more difficult, requiring a fair bit of writing (the max was 500 words in one essay).
Both K and J found MU120 quite easy but also interesting – rather than being arranged as a set of mathematical facts presented in order, it is arranged by topic (prices, earnings, health, music, art, maps, motion and rainbows) and mathematical ideas are pointed up in those areas. For example, the maps unit discusses coordinate systems, contours and converting from 2D representations to 3D physical space. It has been replaced by Discovering mathematics (MU123).
We have to book courses by phone because under-18s cannot book online but we have had no problems – the Staff Tutor has had to OK each booking and she has done so almost without quibble (in fact, she phoned before J started his second course to say how happy she was that K and J were succeeding and that the OU were happy for us to continue in this vein). The only time we have had hassle is when J wanted to start S187 in September (with a view to completing it in 10 weeks) and MU120 in October. The Staff Tutor was concerned that it would be too much to study S187 at the same time as starting his first 30-point course. However, I stood my ground because I knew that MU120 started very gently. In the event, he finished S187 on time and scored 98% for the first CMA and 39/40 for the first TMA in MU120.