This page is for alternatives to the 'mainstream' GCSEs, IGCSEs and A-levels. It includes vocational qualifications, sporting awards, Arts awards - anything which students might use as a way of gaining recognition for their learning outside of traditional academic exams. Please do add your own contributions below, or in the Comments section if you're nervous about editing the page directly. If you create a Wikia account, the whole editing process becomes much easier.
Academic & Vocational Qualifications Edit
Functional Skills Edit
Functional Skills are UK qualifications in English, maths and ICT which can be taken year-round at a test centre. They have some degree of GCSE equivalence, eg they will meet the requirements of an Intermediate Apprenticeship, but are not substitutes for GCSEs in all situations. Please see our Functional Skills page for more.
Open University Edit
Some home-educated children have taken Open University courses to gain qualifications, or even to get into university. The disadvantage is that you generally have to pay, but the advantage is an approach to studying which suits those who are self-motivated and independent learners. See our Open University page for more.
American SATs Edit
A few home-educating families have taken American SATs as a route into university both in the UK and in the USA, considering it to be easier and cheaper than IGCSEs and A-levels. However, it does limit your options in the UK to those institutions, and courses, which will consider it. Please see American SATs for UK university entry for more.
While some academic IT qualifications are accessible to home educators, taking practical tests remains a problem. Many have taken British Computer Society vocational qualfications, which you can take at many adult education centres throughout the year. The European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) is popular with home-educators as it is entirely practical and demonstrates useful office skills on your CV. Another option is a BTech, which can occasionally be taken from home - one home educator has used online BTec Level 2 from Kandu IT.
Cymru ALN - HE EOTAS has pioneered a pilot for a Level 2 modular Gaming Qualification in association with Pembrokeshire FE College (LA run). The Pilot Summer School commencing in July 2017 leads to a recognised certificate at L2, and for those who enjoy it further modules can be studied from Oct 2017, to May 2018 leading to a full Level 2 diploma in Gaming Design and Development, which is equivalent to an IGCSE. Students on the pilot course range from 12 to 20 years of age, and it is coursework only. This makes it ideal for students wishing to demonstrate their competence in this area, who may feel anxious under exam conditions. http://www.pembrokeshire.ac.uk/courses/level-2-award-in-computer-games-design-online-summer-school/
AAT https://www.aat.org.uk/ will accept under 16 year olds for their professional exams. AAT is a highly regarded accounting qualification studied by people in accounts departments in business, and Accounting firms. The levels go from basic all the way up to degree. Level 2 is equivalent to a GCSE, covers mainly bookkeeping, consists of 5 exams, taken individually by computer based assessment. There are lots of centres which offer the tests and hold them on a weekly basis. The whole course can be taken over a period of 4/5 months, or over more than a year. Level 3 gives UCAS points equivalent to an A* A level. The pass mark for Level 2 is 70% and there are no grades - just 'Competent' or not. If you fail a test you can re-take (as often as you like). The course is good for people who like to learn progressively, not have an all or nothing exam, and with no pressure to get a specific grade, and who need flexibility about when they study and take exams. Reasonable maths ability/way of thinking will possibly help but the maths itself is more functional rather than academic. Courses can be bought online, you can buy the books and teach yourself, there are courses at FE collages (would have to ask the college if they accept under 16 year olds and the cost) and there are 'professional' training bodies. For e.g. Kaplan http://financial.kaplan.co.uk/Pages/default.aspx accept under 16year olds and the Milton Keynes branch has been very supportive to us. Their highest level of support is onsite teaching day release (12 days in total plus exams) or evenings, includes course books and masses of study materials including online revision and tests, and recorded teaching of lessons so you can go over any lesson again, plus a 'guaranteed pass' with retake courses online and tutor support. This comes of course at a prices (c £1,500) which is usually paid for by the person's employer - some home ed families who have a business / work for themselves might be able to 'sponsor' their child and pay via their business if the child them uses the skills in the business.
Residential Courses - Science Edit
Smallpeice Trust (Engineering, short residential courses) Smallpeice Trust information for parents
University of Kent Space School Astronomy weekends for 11-18 year-olds - several in August and some at other times.
Space School at the University of Leicester Residential courses for ages 13-15 and 16-18.
Forensic Science Weekend at University of Kent - held in April 2015, for 14-16 year-olds.
Headstart engineering and technology residentials , including the Inspire girls-only course for engineering, science, maths etc. Aimed at Yr 11 and Yr 12, ie approx age 16 and 17.
Project and Systems Engineering ASDAN awards (personal skills, work-related learning, foundation learning and volunteering)
John Muir Awards Edit
The John Muir Awards are an environmental award scheme in which you demonstrate that you 'connect, enjoy and care for wild places'. From their site: "The John Muir Award is an environmental award that encourages people of all backgrounds to connect, enjoy and care for wild places through a structured yet adaptable scheme. The Award is not competitive but should challenge each participant. Taking part will develop an understanding of, and responsibility for, a chosen wild place or places. For some this will offer an opportunity to explore values and spirituality."
Royal Horticultural Society Awards Edit
The Royal Horticultural Society's Certificate and Diploma in Horticultural, practical and theory exams can be studied by distance learning, or face-to-face. The certificate and diploma courses are made up of modules, all of which can be taken individually and accumulated.
"My son (aged 12 years) is doing the level 2 module on plant structure and function, which is probably the module closest to the GCSE science/biology curriculum. He loves gardening and has developed a keen interest in trees and flowers and all wildlife in the garden."
Citizenship & General Edit
Duke of Edinburgh's Award Edit
The Duke of Edinburgh's Award "gives all young people aged 14-24 the chance to develop skills for life and work, fulfil their potential and have a brighter future" . Lots of organisations offer the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, and this may provide an opportunity to have activities you are already doing formally recognised. See the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Local Contacts to find out where it's offered in your area. Often the youth department of your Local Authority will offer it for individuals who can't access it elsewhere, or some home-ed parents have trained as coordinators to take their home-ed group through the Awards. The three sections of the Award (Physical, Skills and Volunteering) can easily be completed by an independent participant, ie one not attached to a group. Where possible, these could be assessed by for example a sports coach, music teacher, or charity shop manager. The Expeditions section can also be accessed as an individual, by joining an Open Award Expedition - found by either looking on the D of E website, or alternatively by googling D of E Open Award Expeditions.
iDEA - The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award is similar, in a sense, to a Duke of Edinburgh Award, but is completed online. There are three Awards - Bronze, Silver and Gold (the Gold is not yet live), which can be achieved by collecting badges related to digital, enterprise and employability skills. The website is well designed with great graphics, making it engaging and fun. There's no age barrier - under 13s can access the programme, which is entirely free to use, with parental consent. It is however best suited to young adults, content wise - those who may be putting together a portfolio for college/uni application or CV for employment.
NCS - National Citizen Service Edit
NCS - The Challenge is a heavily-subsidised scheme involving volunteering, a residential trip, and presentation/group working skills. For an admin payment of about £50 you get a residential activity stay and training which is subsidised by at least £1,000 per person by the government. It could be particularly useful for home-educated students to show that they have experience of group work and can handle novel social situations, though of course you may already have other activities on your CV which show that you have these skills.
See the NCS - Change Your Summer! site.
From the NCS site:
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for 15-17 year olds.
NCS helps build skills for work and life whilst taking on new challenges and meeting new friends. The programme involves a short time away from home, trying new things as well as taking part in a team project in the local community and much more.
NCS is a government-funded initiative that supports community engagement, social action and social mixing among young people.
Through delivery of NCS, we bring together schools, community organisations, businesses and individuals to build a stronger and more cohesive society.
NCS is easy for anyone the target age to access. You need to go to the NCS website and sign up . It is advertised to kids in schools but open to anyone.
NCS The Challenge Facebook page - good way to see what people are actually doing on the NCS schemes.
Comment 1:"My HE daughter has just done this. It was £50 but seemed well worth it and was for 4 weeks. She had 2 different weeks away and 2 weeks in our town doing community things. Seems very well worth the money and her time ."
Comment 2:"I have one friend whose sons (ex-home ed, then at school) attended NCS. My friend said it was 'one big jolly' during which her boys didn't seem to do anything particularly useful. She thought it had been a complete waste of time. Obviously, opportunities and activities vary according to area, so others' experiences might be different!"
Comment 3: "When mine did it they went away for five days team building then came back for the weekend. Then they did another 5 days away team building. They then came back and planned a community fundraiser for a charity of their choice for a week and in the last week carried it out."
From a Reddit commenter:
I spent one week at PGL - ice breaker activities, get to meet everyone and spend time together. A lot of fun, probably the best week.
Next was a week at a scout camp. We had talks about personal finance, interview skills etc. Not as exciting as the first week but valuable nonetheless.
The final two weeks were probably the best in terms of UCAS and personal statements. We planned and took part in a group project, entirely by ourselves. To someone reading a personal statement it really jumps out with many traits - things like independence blah blah whatever. Plus you get to do good for your community, helping out a food bank in my case was rewarding in itself.
Seriously, for the price it's an absolute steal. Much easier and more fun than work experience, very rewarding, and hey, I'm still good friends with a lot of the people I met on there.
Millenium Volunteers Edit
The Millenium Volunteer scheme "The programme is open to anyone aged 14-25 who currently volunteers or would like to start and wants to have their commitment, skills and experience recognised.
"MV has been designed to be as simple as possible and to work around you and your studies, job, hobbies and anything else you’ve got going on – you also get to volunteer where you like, as often as you like and in as many places as you like! As part of the programme you get a certificate backed by your organisation and the Department of Education after your first 50, 100 and 200 hours of volunteering, which along with the support and training your organisation provides, means you get something that looks great on your CV and job and UCAS applications and is endorsed by employers and universities!"
Air Cadets Edit
Air Cadets BTec qualifications for those not in school:
BTEC Certificate in Aviation Studies (equivalent to 2 GCSEs, A-C grades)
BTEC First Diploma in Public Services (equivalent to 4 GCSEs, A-C grades)
BTEC First Diploma in Music (equivalent to 4 GCSEs, A-C grades)
ILM Certificate in Team Leading - Level 2 - ATC cadets only
Sea Cadets Edit
Sea Cadets Qualifications include BTecs in Marine Engineering (not available at present - they are looking into alternative qualification, but still do engineering courses and award badges internally), Music, and Public Service, as well as sailing, canoeing and other watersport qualifications, First Aid, Duke of Edinburgh's Award, and more.
Army Cadets Edit
Army Cadets Star Awards include qualifications in music, specific Piping and Drumming awards, Public Service, sports awards - website not the easiest to navigate, but this is the best place to start. They also offer some BTecs in Music and Public Service, but these seem to be age 16+.
Healthcare / First Aid Edit
St John Ambulance Cadets : "Young people aged 10–17 can join one of our Cadet units, which operate throughout England. These are a great way for teens and young people to take part in volunteer work and learn valuable life skills.
As a Cadet, you’ll take part in a full and interactive programme, working towards your Grand Prior Award and volunteering at events."
Junior Red Cross - First Aid qualifications, internships, and volunteering opportunities.
Trinity Arts Awards Edit
Trinity Arts Awards are project-based awards which can cover fine art, photography, dance, and more. Many home-educated students take the Arts Awards at Bronze, Silver or Gold levels; they are OFQUAL-accredited qualifications. Full details on the Art page.
"You can do an Arts Award in any area of the arts from fashion to poetry, rapping to dancing, sculpture to film. You can be the creator or performer of your own work, or develop your skills in essential roles like marketing or stage management..."
Into Film - film clubs, talent development, workshops and other opportunities for young people. They run Schools Films week in October when our kids can access free films.
They have lots of resources and their remit is to introduce and excite young people about films, media and working within the industry. They have resources about the industry, give careers advice and offer training.
BFI programme - it looks great. The cost is £25 although you can only do the course once. They have bursaries avaliable for travel and the fee if needed.
"This exciting programme offers hands-on filmmaking courses, aimed at developing your knowledge and skills and encouraging your special interests.
Are you 16-19? Passionate about film? Want a career in the film industry? Then the BFIFilm Academy – UK Network Programme is for you.
There are 40 different courses running between September 2015 and February 2016 across the UK so wherever you live – be it Birmingham or Belfast, Dundee or Durham – you will have the opportunity to gain the essential skills to enter the film industry.
Courses provide at least 40 hours of industry standard training through regular evenings and/or weekend classes. Each one offers combination of workshops, practical skills lessons and lectures. You will also get masterclasses by key industry figures, receive bespoke careers advice and work towards making a final film on a team. As a graduate of the BFI Film Academy you will become part of the growing alumni network and have access to year round events such as BAFTA career surgeries."
Speech and Drama Edit
"Trinity Guildhall exams in Speech and Drama, Communication Skills and Shakespeare are graded on a similar basis to music exams with Grade 6 being at GCSE standard and Grade 8 is at A level standard. Our children have taken them through a local Speech and Drama teacher and have helped them gain confidence which has been useful in applying for jobs etc."
LAMBDA exams are similar.
For more details see the Drama page.
Music Awards Edit
Music grades awarded by ABRSM and Trinity are OFQUAL-accredited at Levels 1 and 2. Because some schools don't offer GCSE music, colleges may well consider alternative qualifications. Music grades are not only available in classical music, but also in jazz, rock etc. See the page on music & add your comments please!
Access to Music Edit
Access to Music run free open days and taster courses for various music tech courses.
Sports Awards Edit
Please add your ideas here!
One member of the HE Exams Yahoogroup wrote:
"My home-educated sons both qualified as sports coaches and now help to run a sports club. It's possible to qualify as a beginner level coach in lots of sports before you are 16 and help more experienced older coaches with coaching until you are legally allowed to work independently. As part of becoming registered coaches they have also had to get basic first aid qualifications, do 'safeguarding and welfare' courses and get enhanced CRBs. All of these can be done through sports organisations or the local sports partnership and are useful bits of paper to hold. (Safeguarding may have to be done over the age of 16 - I'm not sure.) There are also 'young leaders' qualifications ."
"My oldest also started to qualify as a referee at 14 and by the age of 17 had the highest domestic qualifications available in his sport. Being a referee has proved invaluable for job applications and interviews where he has had to justify that he could take responsibility for complex situations including confrontational ones, be able to deal with members of the public in all sorts of situations, enforce health and safety etc. Similarly coaching ticks the 'experience of working with children' and 'can cope with multitasking' boxes! "
"I never thought about the relevance to job applications when they started all this but it is incredibly useful. I'm glad we didn't attempt to go down the GCSE route. I think getting the practical experience was time better spent... and it gives the possibility for part-time earnings too, including as a student if they decide to go to college/university."
Another member commented:
" (For practical subjects), in some ways I think it's easier to find alternative qualifications or experience to demonstrate achievement and personal development. So, for example, rather than do PE as an IGCSE, my son played for many years in a football team and a basketball team, helped coach, gained a refereeing qualification and experience, gained a basketball coaching qualification and gym instructor's qualification. He then went on to do a BTEC in Sport. A GCSE type qualification wasn't necessary."
Sports Coach UK accredits qualifications from many different sporting bodies via the UKCC. It offers a Certificate in Sports Coaching which you can access by different routes, and also online courses for a small fee. "You can be assured that your UKCC-endorsed qualification is nationally recognised against the government's skills agenda. This gives you, the coach, a clear vocational pathway, which increases your opportunities for personal and career development."
The Royal Yachting Association Youth department offers lots of qualifications and activities. Some home-ed students take the RYA grades and then qualify as Assistant Instructors, which involves learning how to teach safety information, giving a presentation, and helping to teach beginners.
Canoeing / Kayaking
Equestrianism / Horse-riding Edit
Young Equestrian Leaders Award (YELA) - an award scheme for the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) designed to recognise the time and effort young volunteers give to equestrianism and shape their experience, so they become equestrian leaders of the future. For ages 13-25.
"YELA runs over three progressive levels: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Bronze requires 20 hours of volunteering and introduces skills in responsibility, organisation and communication—and Silver develops these further. The Gold Award requires 120 hours of volunteering, encouraging leadership and the planning and delivery of a specific project."
Refereeing looks great on your CV as it demonstrates ability to handle pressure and conflict. You can train from age 14. One home-ed student found that his refereeing experience was crucial in gaining him a place on a highly competitive police training scheme.