Personal experiences of home educators

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Here are some case studies of home-educated students with, perhaps, unconventional routes to further- and higher-education and employment. Some of them have been academically very successful, but of course, without denominator data, we cannot speculate on what proportion of home-educated students go on to have such success. What these case studies do show, however, is that being a late reader, having few early qualifications, qualifications taken early or spread out over several years, need not be a barrier to achievement. Of course, offers from top universities are not the only thing which matters - but we have focussed on these because they blow some common myths about home education right out of the water.

You will see that many of the students attended sixth form college or school for A-levels, and this reflects the difficulty of taking A-levels and navigating university application from home-ed. These experiences are still highly relevant as the applicants usually have a different portfolio of GCSE-level qualifications from the average school pupil. For instance, they might have few GCSEs, or have taken them spread out over several years. Again, they are important as they show that this need not be a hindrance when applying to university.

Sometimes people contact universities to ask for data on home-educated students. In the UK, this is unlikely to yield useful information. Firstly, as most home-ed students enrol in an institution for sixth form, the universities may well have no record that they were home-educated until sixth form. Secondly, this is not the sort of data that UK universities collect at present anyway. Therefore, collecting personal stories from the home-ed community is our best option at present.

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Contents

A-levels at home

Please see the page on A-levels for some case studies. Jill Ingle has written a detailed article about her family's experience of home-educating two children through A-levels, just with the internet and textbooks - no correspondence courses, no tutors - and with outstanding results and a lovely family life to boot. Please see the Ingle_Family story.

University Offers

Zack Millar - offer from Cambridge to study Medicine in 2014

(Post from his mother to HE Exams, reproduced with her permission)

I am delighted to tell you that Zack has received an offer from Downing College, Cambridge to study Medicine.

He was home schooled from age 4 - 16, and did 10 I/GCSEs, spread over 4 years, yes 4 years.

He did Maths and Further Maths A-levels at home spread over 3 years, and got A* in both

He went to school at 16, and is finishing up A levels in Physics Chemistry and Biology (the Maths at home overlapped with this but was finished by the end of Lower Sixth)

Many colleges at Cambridge said that they would require A*AA in the three sciences, but Downing indicated otherwise. And, indeed, they made an offer including both Maths, so in reality, as long as he gets 65% in his Chemistry in the summer, that's him in. (He got 95% in AS)

Very, very thankful to God, and exhausted!

So don't be told that you HAVE to take the whole lot at once! However, Cambridge looks at the whole picture, whilst other Unis take a blinkered view of "you must do it our way". I couldn't have done 10 at once, or even over 2 years. I was absolutely certain that this was the path God had led us down, and all the Glory is His.

The Sixth Form Experience: We sent Zack to school mostly to get him used to being out of the house for some of the day before moving to England for Uni (we are from Belfast). It has served that purpose, but it has been a horrible experience. He is bored, ignored and generally miserable. Despite it being one of the best schools here, most youngsters want to do as little work as possible, and do not appreciate Zack asking intelligent questions and wanting to do the best he can (or the fact that he knows much more than they do and has come top or second in every subject.) we wish we had sent him to a college type environment instead. If you send your child to sixth form - don't expect the teachers to actually teach - they do too much paperwork and crowd control for that. He will still have to self-educate to do well!

Meredith Ford - offer from Cambridge to study Modern Languages in 2014

Meredith Ford was autonomously home-educated; she took 4 GCSEs then went to sixth form college at 16. She has an offer from Queen's College, Cambridge, to study French and Spanish. There is a lovely Yorkshire Post articleabout her family which discusses their approach to education. It also mentions her older brother, Chris, who was autonomously educated, took one GCSE from home aged 12 then went to school to take the rest in just 8 months, going on to do A-levels, and eventually a PhD in Biomedical Sciences.

Student F: Offer from King's College, Cambridge to study Maths in 2014

Student F was home-educated until sixth form. He took 8 GCSEs spread over several years and then attended a Further Education college to take A-levels. He has an offer to study maths. At interview, the tutors were interested in asking about his home education.

Student G: Offer from King's College, Cambridge, to study Maths and Computing in 2014

Student G took 5 GCSEs from home-ed before attending sixth form, and has an offer to study Maths and Computing.

Andrew Phillips - Offer from Oxford to study Classics in 2014

(Andrew's mother's post to HE-Exams is copied here, with her kind permission)

Our son received an offer from Oxford to study Classics. We are thrilled for him.

So below I have posted the ongoing story of my son (now 19) moving from home-ed. to A levels at sixth form, to applying to university. The first two sections below are emails I posted previously, and the third is the latest update. I hope that it will be an encouragement to those families who are concerned that the lack of GCSEs will affect their son's/daughter's entry to sixth form and university.

March 2012 - Applying to Sixth Forms A note of encouragement amidst the exam work! Our eldest (nearly 17) went for an interview last week at a local sixth form college. The college is well respected locally, and it is large and very inclusive. Having said that they had ten pupils go to Oxbridge this year. Usual entrance requirements 5 GCSE's grade C and above.

Our son has never attended school. He has the following qualifications English IGCSE A* (June 2010), Maths IGCSE A* (June 2011), Bible Knowledge O' Level A* (June 2011), ECDL Extra, Piano Grade 5, Violin Grade 5, Music theory Grade 5. He is continuing with piano and violin exams and is taking an OU Latin course (30 points) this summer.

During the interview he was asked if he intended to take more exams this year. He said he was widening his horizons instead. He belongs to a youth orchestra, is a volunteer computer buddy at our local library, is continuing to run [his own website], is attending an adult ed. photography course, is involved at our church including preaching, and doing work experience etc.

They gave him an unconditional, written offer on the spot and said they could see he was "a well rounded young man." The offer is open until August. Our son asked to sit in on some lessons, which they are happy to do.

He is now waiting for another interview at a smaller sixth form at a local school, and then wants to choose between the two environments.

We're not sharing this to boast (although we are very proud of him :-) Just to say we chose to home-ed because we wanted to offer our children something broader than a school curriculum, and it is encouraging to see that our son can move on how he chooses, even without a full clutch of GCSEs.

November 2012 Here is an update to our son's story. He chose the second school mentioned at the end of the e-mail above. Having sat in on lessons he decided he liked the enthusiasm and obvious commitment of the staff at our local Roman Catholic/Anglican school. There are about 80 young people in his year group so relatively small. He was again offered an unconditional place to join the sixth form. Last summer (following the e-mail above) he took his Grade 6 Piano, Grade 6 Violin, and OU Latin - he achieved distinctions in them all. But he never did have '5 GCSEs' which is officially their minimum standard. (editor's emphasis)

He is now studying A levels in History, English Literature and Business Studies at school, Latin A level with a tutor at home, piano and violin both grade 7, attending Youth Orchestra on Saturdays, and involved in our church. He is very busy and it as a bit of a juggling act, but he is very committed.

We recently went to a first parents evening and met his form tutor. As we sat down his tutor said "I'm impressed..." and then went on to say

(i) he is "very courageous" - he had volunteered and led a tutor group "reflexion time" and planned and led a tutor group quiz (ii) he is socially "very open" - I assume this means he is willing to talk to people! (iii) he is involved in all his lessons, and hands his home work in on time (iv) he is an independent learner and very mature (v) he is making the most of every opportunity on offer (vi) he is enthusiastic (vii) he is coping well socially

Our son is a naturally academic, enthusiastic, committed young man. We knew his last year at home he did not need more qualifications. He did need more life experiences - he is not and will never be street-wise. So each week he took the bus to his adult ed. photography class - and phoned us the day he got on the wrong bus in the pouring rain and found himself quite a way from home. He taught computer skills as a volunteer at the library and got some private, paid work as an outcome. He did some work experience and spent time with a variety of different people. He went away last summer to Austria with his youth orchestra which included a 24 hour coach trip and was travel sick on the way home! These are the types of experiences he needed to grow, not more GCSEs.

So what does he think of sixth form? He has fitted in well and made a wide group of friends/acquaintances. He enjoys the studies and opportunities to join things like an impromptu choir and the Christian Union. However, he doesn't understand why many of the sixth form pupils talk in lessons/ use mobile phones/ don't do their homework etc. He says, they don't have to be there so if they aren't interested, why are they? He has had a few difficult moments socially which he finds uncomfortable at the time, but can walk away from unbothered. In fact he laughs at the criticisms he has heard over the years about home-ed children's chances of developing social skills.

I can only say how glad we are to have home educated our children and we are so pleased we had the opportunity. If our son applies to university we are willing to take the chance that not having 10+ GCSEs is unusual and might affect his chances. We hope that in some universities there are adults so enthusiastic and committed to young people, that they will carry on reading his application form and be willing to meet him at an interview. Maybe, this is very idealistic but I'm willing to stick my neck out... after all isn't that what home education is partly about... a willingness to think and be different! Our son wouldn't swap it either.


January 2014

Our son is now in his second year of A levels. Last summer he took AS exams in Business Studies (A, UMS 100%), English Lit. (A, UMS 97%), History (A, UMS 100%), Latin (A, UMS 98.5%). He also took violin and piano grade 7's and gained distinction in both.

He has applied to university and has these offers:

  • King's College London - Classics - AAB
  • University College London - Ancient Languages - AAB
  • Exeter - Classics - AAA
  • Oxford (St. John's) - AAA
  • Durham - AAA

He has not yet decided which offer he will be accepting.

He did receive an e-mail from UCL asking if he had omitted some qualifications from his UCAS form (because he had so few GCSEs). However, because he had been in touch with a tutor at UCL prior to sending in his application he managed to sort out the problems (they require a modern language GCSE which he does not have and he demonstrated by email that he had five qualifications equivalent to GCSE. ) It was well worth while having already been in touch. And during the Oxford interview process (he was there for a whole week) no mention was made of his unorthodox background or lack of qualifications.

Hope this is an encouragement to those who are moving on from home education.

Fiona Phillips.

Rachel D - English offer from Cambridge for 2015

(Rachel's mother's post to HE-Exams is copied here, with her kind permission) Our dd has an offer to read English Lit at Girton College, Cambridge. (It is a deferred entry for 2015 as she has a voluntary work placement planned for next year - for this subject there did not seem to be any problem with deferring entry)

Needs to get A*/A/A - but no subject specified for the A* ( just got to get the grades this summer now - not quite home yet!) ( She is taking A levels in Eng Lit, Biology and History. She only did these 3 at AS....she did her second Spanish course from home during first year sixth....)

Some background for info/ encouragement:

Pretty ordinary family of 3 children and 2 parents, living in a very ordinary part of the Midlands and not wealthy by any stretch ( although very grateful for what we have ).

The qualifications she applied with were these listed. They were taken over 4 years, with a maximum of 2 subjects in any one sitting. No questions were asked about this by Cambridge or the other 4 Uni's from whom she got offers.

She spent 4 months in hospital in her 13 th year when she took her first exam....ended up having to have the exam supervised in the hospital school! Apart from that study for the RE she did virtually no study for around 9 months that year, mainly sleeping, sitting in garden and some light reading and TV watching.


RE 'O' level - grade A. IGCSE English Language ( CIE) grade A* IGCSE Biology (CIE) grade A GCSE Maths (OCR) grade B GCSE History (OCR) grade B IGCSE Chemistry ( CIE) grade A IGCSE Latin(CIE) grade B Open University Beginners' Spanish ( 30 point course) PASS with72% Grade 8 music ( Recorder) and Grade 5 Music Theory.

( she did not do IGCSE English Lit....she thought it looked too boring. Instead she followed a course called " Survey of British Literature" from the US curriculum SonLight. There was no tutoring or marking...just a course which she tweaked with the help of the Internet to provide more British style essay tasks. She made a portfolio but neither 6 th form nor Cambridge asked to see it.)

( Also Open University Intermediate Spanish ( 30 point course) PASS which with previous course makes a Certificate of Higher Education in Spanish - result came through after Uni application went in)

Until she was about 14 our home education was fairly eclectic....not " autonomous" but not very formal. Younger siblings around, trips out, projects, lots of art, nature stuff, allotment,home ed groups of all sorts (e.g. Science club with one other family, informal acting/ play making group ) What we did do was A LOT of reading...reading aloud and individual reading and TALKING. To be honest the more I look at it the greater I feel the impact of this has been....just the breadth of background knowledge on so many things..and also seemingly much " better read" than most of her school peers.

We tried not to let the exam syllabus thing narrow stuff too much but there is a sort of inevitable realisation that in the end if you are going to do exams you do have to " play the game" and get on with it.

She was keen to go to 6 th form. Had no trouble getting into our local school 6 th form ( except they would not let her do AS Spanish without GCSE) and has enjoyed the social / interactive aspect of lessons, especially in English and History. And most of the time she has managed to hold onto a sense of perspective ( school tends to make everything the " be all and end all" all the time) and to keep a sense of personal control over her learning . ( She politely told her biology teacher that she was NOT doing a poster about a topic as it was a waste of time and not her best way of learning stuff!)

When we started out as Home Edders in 2000 she was just a little girl who I thought could stay at home with her little brother until she was 7 and would go into junior school, since we were having such a nice time and I didn't like the look of the early years national curriculum. We didn't have a grand plan... And even when we had all 3 children and were in " long term" mode for Home Ed we didn't have any great goals other than to give a good grounding in basics and enjoy a lot of stuff together and follow interests and aptitudes as the children matured. This is where it has led dd1. DS will be a different direction ...and dd2 different again.....exhausting....interesting....exciting...!

Hope this is an encouragement to those of you starting out....

Jonathan, studying Engineering at Cambridge University 2013

(Summary provided by Jonathan's mother) Here's a quick history of Jonathan's journey to Cambridge:

2009: IGCSEs in Maths (A*), Geography (A*) and O level in RS (A)

2010: IGCSEs in Physics (A*), Business Studies (B) and ECDL

2011: IGCSEs in ICT (A*), French (A), Accounting (A*) and English Language (A*)

He also took grade 5 practical and theory at some point previous to these exams (distinction).

2013: A levels in Physics (A*), Maths (A), ICT (A) and Business Studies (A).

He applied generally to Cambridge to read Engineering. He turned down the first interview due to a driving test but was offered another. There were two interviews, no testing. The offer was the standard offer of A*, A, A with the A* having to be in either Maths or Physics.

His early exams were never referred to and his home ed. history was just passed over briefly at interview. His A levels, however, were done from college, not home.

Hope that is useful to someone. The following link is from the university's own web page with interesting facts about their requirements. Regardless of what anyone else says, these are the facts as they stand to date.

Cambridge Requirements - The Facts

Anon I, studying Maths at Oxford 2013

(Details provided by his mother) Currently studying Maths at Oxford University (entry 2013) after being home educated until entering sixth for A-levels. 5 GCSEs/IGCSES, spread out over 2 years: maths (A*),Eng lang (A*), biology (A*) , physics (A*), history (B), At sixth form he took A levels in Maths (A*) , Further maths (A*), physics (A*) biology (A).

At the time of his interview he already had A* maths as you take that at the end of year 13, and his offer was for a further A*AA.


Fred Bettles-Lake

Fred was autonomously educated and was a late reader. He took 4 or 5 GCSEs part-time while home-educated via a scheme at a local adult education college, and then went on to sixth form college at City and Islington College. He had to retake some GCSEs in order to get in to sixth form. Here's his mother's comments:

'Fred is at UEA doing the Eng Lit and Creative Writing Degree which he is loving. He is working extraordinarily hard. I think his story bears repeating to anxious home-ed parents. Aged 10 he could not read and write at all and was pretty shaky 11-12 and at 13/14/15/ read and wrote next to nothing. He didn't do brilliantly in his GCSEs, possibly because he thought they were boring, but then got 4 As at AS and 2 As and an A* at A2 when his motivation was very high. '

(The Creative Writing and English Literature course at University of East Anglia is very competitive and the standard requirement is 3 A-grades at A-level to get in, plus students have to submit a portfolio of their creative writing. )


Anonymous 2.

(provided by his mother) Came out of school at 7 Completed Grade 5 French Horn and Grade 5 Music Theory and studied various subjects at home. Won a London Film competition aged 12 (in age 12-21 category). Was accepted into FE college at 16 (this was an academic year early i.e. GCSE year) to study four GCSEs in one year (English, Maths, Double Science - AAAA). Stayed to study A-levels in Maths, English, Physics and Chemistry. Re-sat last year to improve grades (final grades - CDCC). Went to study Aeronautical Engineering at Sheffield Hallam (met offer). Was also accepted at Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan with typical offer of ABB –BBB. At the end of the first year changed course to study Animation.


Anonymous 3.

(provided by her mother) Came out of school at 8/9 Studied various subjects at home including French, Maths, English but elected to take only one GCSE by correspondence course in Biology (A) aged 14, Piano Grade 5 and Music Theory Grade 5. Was accepted into FE college after taking competence tests in Maths and English (computer based testing). Took GCSE English (A*), and A levels in Biology (A), Maths (B), Physics (B), Chemistry (A), and AS English (B) over three years. Grade 8 piano also completed at this time. Went to study Biology at UCL (also accepted at Imperial and UEA – rejected by Exeter). Specialised in Second year in Zoology. Began tutoring HE students in Biology, Maths and Chemistry (to AS Level). Left after second year because the learning environment presented some problems (a very big course, very impersonal environment and little student support) but has transferable credits that may be used later. Now studying Victorian Literature at City Lit, Studying for level 1 piano diploma, tutoring (to A-level) in Biology, Maths and Chemistry, working part time in a cafe and illustrating a book for a Children’s author.


Alex Dowty

Karen Luckhurst talked to Alex Dowty about how he got to study law at Oxford University.

Open University

J and K - 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.

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