My youngest son has recently completed his GCSES. He’s only just 15 but as is the way so often with home education, we have come to the end of nine subjects long before intended. In fact, having completed his science GCSEs in 2019 (all Grade 9) he’s already well on the way to completing his A Levels – not sure quite when, there’s no rush. So if this wasn’t intended, how on earth has it happened on an educational diet of just a few hours a day?
Well there’s lots of reasons. First and foremost, having an older brother meant piggy backing through some of the early GCSE material. I confess, I didn’t want to go through some of the subjects twice so younger brother faced Geography when in Year 8 (Grade A) and started on his History GCSE in 2017. That feels like a long time ago right now. In retrospect it was wise, any History teacher will tell you that the content for the GCSE is daunting and my youngest has had the luxury of doing it at his leisure. So too with English Literature. No rush, no pressure, just casual and consistent application and lots of enjoyment. Incidentally, it was Medicine through Time, one of the History components that sparked a passion for Biochemistry. And what a passion! In his last mock he achieved 96% on his History Paper 1 and I think this was purely because he enjoyed it and became utterly immersed in the challenge. What a luxury never to see any lesson as a chore, just a feast of knowledge!
I started home educating in 2015 with low expectations and a brain full of confusion. I confess I have put endless hours into researching the ‘how to effectively deliver 11 subjects single handedly’ task I set myself and yes, I admit I was scared. Scared of letting my boys down. But looking back I have learnt so much. That’s doesn’t mean to say it has been easy. It hasn’t. Successful home education is an enormous undertaking but if I had to select one achievement that mattered more than anything it would be the fact that both my boys have an unquenchable thirst for learning. They simply don’t tire of it. One week into their summer holiday they have returned to their books and they’ve done so purely out of choice.
Please don’t think we have cherry picked our favourite bits and focused on the easy stuff. We haven’t. Our GCSEs included all the facilitating subjects plus a couple of special extras – Astronomy and Psychology. Where there were Higher or Foundation options we chose the Higher and of course, we had our preferred or our ‘best’ subjects. But life can’t all be plain sailing. It’s not realistic to only do the easy stuff – life is tough and delivered as a concoction of boredom, tragedy and celebration. You need to be able to accept and complete the things you don’t want to do. So we made special focus and extra effort for our weaker subjects. It wasn’t that we didn’t ‘like’ them, or at least we didn’t admit dislike, but where we found ourselves less capable we put aside extra time, restructured plans and rejigged timetables so that we could patiently, without any pressure, improve and get to grips with those where we were found wanting.
Without teachers and being a non subject specialist mother across all 11 subjects meant that I had to learn fast. I must add at this point that I am now completely out paced by my boys as they move on smoothly past me and delve deeper into A Level studies – but one thing I believed in was optimism and patience. Take my eldest for example, in his last Maths performance when at school he achieved just 35% and was concerned I would be disappointed (I wasn’t) – so he didn’t tell me and said his report was a mistake. It soon became apparent that Maths wasn’t a strength, nor one of mine – so we embraced it as our challenge and endeavoured to become super good at Maths. Physics was a close second. It took some persuading that he could succeed but I soon accepted it was all a head game. He believed in me – and I’d read enough NLP books to know that success often comes from self-belief as well as application and children love doing things with their parents – at least whilst they are young.
To give ourselves more time we split GCSES over two years – four in year 10 and five in year 11. The favourites were done first (A*,A*,8 and A) leaving our five lesser favourites with a decreased work load that really helped and we sailed through Maths with a Grade 7 (after deliberating that Foundation may be the better option but finally deciding to have a crack at the Higher) and a Grade 8 in Physics; plus two Grade 9s and a further Grade 8 making a total (in old money) of seven A*s and two Grade As.
Life is full of things we don’t want to do. It could be buying the groceries, making a phone call or emptying the dishwasher – that is usually because they are dull tasks. But squaring up to academic areas which you find a challenge has great benefits. Beyond the resilience and fortitude it develops, turning a weaker subject into a positive means shaping your daily plans to succeed. Our first lessons, whilst we were fresh and keen, were Maths and Physics. The feeling of euphoria it brings when those results show that your tenacity paid off also instils confidence and it shows you the value in embracing something you would rather, in all honesty, put on the ‘too hard pile’. A quality that should help later on in life.
Now for younger son. His skills are very much science based and that’s where he will focus with his four A Levels. But we have agreed that he needs to select a challenge in an area where he is a bit more stretched. The answer – an AS in English Literature and we’ve chosen the Edexcel option because it has a focus on Science and Society. This summer he has already read War of the Worlds and will now move on to A Streetcar Named Desire and the Handmaid’s Tale. He’s up for it because he still has that same positive attitude to education from his early childhood. Although I know he would rather focus on science, and indeed he will, he is actually very good at literature and it seems a shame to turn away from writing skills at 15. The ability to write concisely and develop his essay skills will be good use of his spare time. And there’s still work to be done.
I’m sure if he was at school he would disagree, probably due to the influence of peer pressure. But he’s not so I have his buy-in. Home education autonomy beyond making the choices of what parents and children would like to do; there’s a further beauty in the ‘how’. Remember schools process children through exams because they are dealing with large numbers and it has to be a one size fits all – it wouldn’t work otherwise. Home educators enjoy the luxury of not being under pressure. There’s no rush, no deadline – and the surprise that you may reach the destination far quicker than you imagined.