Covid-19, GCSEs and Home Education

Government and Ofqual exploring options for awarding grades to home educated students

What’s been said?

How society has changed in the last week! Recently we reported on a chain of cloned local newspaper articles with headlines such as “Hundreds of children in home school”. Two weeks after that headline appeared in the Shropshire Star, millions of children are being schooled at home! We hope you have spotted the irony in this aspect of the crisis which is happening around the world, not just in the UK.

Even those who have chosen to live in the remotest areas of Britain are being affected, as measures designed to protect the population from the Covid-19 virus spreading too quickly are ramped up on a daily basis. No area of daily life has been left untouched by these government-imposed changes and it was inevitable that education would find its routines totally disrupted.

When the Prime Minister announced last Wednesday that schools were to close, it was met with a mixture of relief and panic by parents faced with having to take on full-time responsibility for their children, including their education, possibly until September or beyond.

There is nothing new in that for experienced elective home educators, but what is of concern to many in our community is the accompanying announcement that “exams will not take place as planned in May and June.” Johnson continued, “Though we will make sure that pupils get the qualifications they need and deserve for their academic career,” to which teachers and parents responded, “But how?”

The following day information filtered out that exam boards would look to teachers to suggest the grades they thought each student would have received under normal circumstances. On Friday the DfE announced that this is exactly what would happen in England, but its statement did not include provisions for HE candidates. An accompanying FAQ page does however shed a little light on this matter:

12. What about private candidates or home educated students?

We will work closely with the independent regulator of qualifications, Ofqual, to explore options for awarding grades to private candidates, including home educated students.

This is welcome news, but the EHE community should not sit back and relax.

One group which has been proactive is Tutors & Exams, the Coventry-based exam centre. On Sunday they posted on Facebook that they were in contact with Pearsons [the UK’s largest awarding organisation]. Pearsons said that they wanted everyone to be aware that:

“Ofqual and the Awarding Bodies are working tirelessly to ensure that grading is rolled out robustly and fairly. More information will be available this week with exact details on how things will move forward for Home Educated and Private Candidates.” [Emphasis added]

Why does it matter?

Whilst the above reports concern England, similar decisions have been reached in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is therefore very likely that arrangements in England will be reflected in the devolved nations.

In October 2009, Graham Badman erroneously implied to the Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families that nearly a quarter of EHE children were not in employment, education or training [NEET]. This figure was quoted by Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England in her February 2019 report Skipping school: Invisible children. In the accompanying Dispatches programme on Channel 4, she went further, “No one knows how home educated children do academically. Last year, of 11,000 GCSE aged home educated children, only 263 were known to have sat exams.”

Well, let’s be very clear, their parents know how they progress educationally. They also know the hard work their children put into preparing for national exams. Not all EHE families choose to follow that route, but for those who do there are many obstacles to overcome besides hours of revision. Examination fees have to be paid, as do any administration charges, and some have to travel miles to find a centre which will accept external candidates.

Imagine how little effort extremely stretched civil servants will put into finding a solution to solving this “minor problem” if they accept Longfield’s misleading assertion!

Ministers across the UK need be aware that HE parents and the HE community as a whole are very concerned that EHE children will miss out on going to college, university or starting an apprenticeship because no-one found a way to treat them in an equivalent way to their schooled peers. We cannot allow the state to fail them on this occasion.

What can I do?

Given the current crisis, it would seem foolish to press the government for an instant answer. For now therefore we encourage you to sit tight and keep an eye on government announcements, along with the websites of the qualification organisations listed below.

If by the start of next week there is no positive information from governments and awarding bodies on how EHE candidates are going to be awarded grades, then we would encourage every HE family to write to their MP and/or Assembly Member, and through them to the various Education Ministers, pressing for a solution to be suggested without further delay.

If it becomes necessary to press for an urgent solution, we will post a list of suggested points to raise with your local representative(s): See Update, 31 March.


Note: The regional qualifications organisations are posting updates on their websites, these are: