Wednesday, 27 June 2018

How to Study for IGCSEs - part 3, working through the exam course

This was actually the post that I intended to write this morning, but I quickly realised I'd have to go back to the beginning first, so I've already written parts 1 & 2 - now onto part 3: once all choices have been made, how to actually go about studying.  Again though, remember this is just what worked for us - and is only meant as a guide to get you started if you're feeling lost and clueless.  As you proceed I'm sure you'll find your feet and work out what works best for you!

1/ Buy the (right) coursebook.
All coursebooks are NOT the same (as we learned to our cost more than once when we bought the wrong ones).  Take care to buy the right one!  This is how...

Hopefully in part 2 you will have bookmarked the 'Subject List' pages of the Cambridge and Edexcel websites (links included again just in case).

On the Cambridge website click on your chosen subject which will take you to the Syllabus overview page with the extra menu on the top left. Click on 'support material' at the bottom of that menu - it will take you to a list of recommended resources, each with a description, ISBN no, publication date etc.  You are looking for one which states it "supports the full syllabus for examination from ** (date no later than the year you want to sit the exam)". 

On the Edexcel website, click on your subject from the list. At the top of the page, just underneath the subject title is a grey menu bar. Click on 'Published resources' for a list of available coursebooks - I found there was a less confusing selection to choose from - in our chosen subjects at least, it was very obvious which was the correct book.  If in doubt, use the Facebook HE groups to check that you are looking at the right one - we all understand how important reassurance is when you are starting out, so always feel free to ask!

Once you know which coursebook you want, you can order it direct from the publisher, your local bookstore or Amazon, or ask in Home Ed groups online such as Facebook where people are often very happy to sell the coursebooks they have finished with. Just check the front cover - and more importantly the ISBN number - to make sure it is the right book!

NB If you are using a tutor or online course, make sure you ask them which coursebook THEY are using. We got into a bit of a muddle with one course that used an older version to ours, causing considerable confusion until we worked it out and had to fork out for yet another book!

2/ Plan your year of studyIf you are just 'dipping your toe' into the idea of IGCSEs and have no idea when you will actually sit the exams, feel free to just note the following for amusement/ future reference and read the coursebook at your leisure while you see how you get on.  However if you have a deadline of next summer to sit the exams, you'll probably want to spend this summer coming up with a plan.
I know it sounds extreme, but this step kept me (and therefore Eldest) sane.  The first year we had no idea how to pace ourselves, and it showed in the mad panic at the end which I never want to experience again.  This year we drew up a plan and it helped enormously with pacing!
So first I recommend working out how many days/ weeks you have available for study.  If you want to stick to school terms & holidays like we did, you can find term dates by Googling 'school term dates 2018-19 for (insert your  county/ LA name)'

Let's assume you are taking summer exams. I recommend aiming to finish the course by the February half-term, which will allow space in case you run over AND a good couple of months essential for revision.  So allowing for holidays and regular breaks, count how many weeks you have of study before February half term.  It will probably be less than you think - if you start in Sept and are looking to do it in a year you will actually be looking at about 20 weeks to study the coursebook cover to cover.

Next, go through the book and get a feel for the layout - how many chapters are there?  Is there a section of questions at the end of each chapter or are they interspersed throughout?  Eg If there are 10 chapters to cover in 20 weeks the maths is easy: one chapter per fortnight.  You can then divide your studies into a set amount of pages per day, but be aware that pages with lots of sample questions will take longer than the pages of just reading text. 
You also need to factor in any supplementary activities whether that be practical experiments, video clips on BBC Bitesize or online tutorials etc, allowing time to draw mindmaps or write out definition lists on index cards or apps such as Quizlet.  There are lots of excellent supplementary resources out there - the summer holidays are a good time to research & get recommendations from those who have gone before! 

So for example if you want a starting idea, a fortnight's study of a chapter might look like this:
M read pages 1-6
T practical experiments/ exercises (plan ahead & make sure you have the right gear in)
W read pages 7-12
T read pages 13-18
F mindmap main concepts
M watch relevant online tutorials on Youtube & Bitesize
T answer questions on p19
W write definition list on Quizlet
T answer questions on p20
F self-testing on Quizlet

Please understand this is just to give an idea. It is NOT a prescribed course of study.  It's just to help anyone who is feeling as clueless as I did when we started. Also take into account that all subjects are very different.  For example, when we did Maths it looked nothing like this - we didn't even get around to buying the coursebook, we just found an excellent course online (Absolute Maths) and completed that in a few months, flying through the easier bits and taking longer over the more difficult bits (occasionally using Youtube videos if we got really stuck). They also offered Skype tutoring sessions towards the end which were excellent.

So what I am saying is this: find what works for you.  But whatever that looks like, it will really help you to at least vaguely plan it out first, even if you end up adjusting your plans repeatedly as you go along. There were times when Eldest had had a particularly hard day answering questions and needed an easier day to follow, so we made sure those were the Quizlet days or video days.  NB Quizlet was a Godsend for us during revision - secondary only to past papers in the amount we used it.  Making definition lists as you go along really saves on time when you get to revision season!

I really hope this has helped to make the process seem more achievable to anyone starting out on the Home Ed/ IGCSE path.  Please do ask questions if anything isn't clear - and any experienced HEors who might come across this, please feel free to add what worked for you :)

Happy studies!

How to Study for IGCSEs - part 2, Which Syllabus?

Choosing your IGCSE exam board goes hand-in-hand with choosing your exam centre.  Some centres only offer one board but it is worth comparing the specifications anyway, as you may find that one style suits your child a LOT more than the others, in which case you may need to consider driving further in order to use the preferred board.  If your child does not have a strong preference you may be able to choose the exam centre based on which is closest (or best for other reasons).

As I mentioned before, this part of the process was the part that I found the most daunting and confusing, so I though it would help to outline a step-by-step process that I would use as a beginner.  Nowadays I would omit the first couple of steps as I have the exam boards bookmarked, but I wanted to show how to use the HE Exams wiki if you are feeling utterly lost - it really is a brilliant resource!
So, for example. The process is pretty much the same for any subject, but for the sake of taking you through the process, let's say you were interested in Geography, how would you go about comparing specifications?  This is how I would do it as a beginner:
a) go to the wiki subjects page and look up your subject (Geography).  Click on the 'Geography' link (highlighted in blue) and it will take you to a subject-specific page still in the wiki.

b) scroll down until you find the link under the CIE (Cambridge) heading - it says CIE IGCSE Geography.  That take you to the Cambridge (now called CAIE) website listing all available subjects.  I recommend bookmarking this page for future reference on all subjects, so you will be able to skip (a) & (b) next time...

c) scroll down until you find Geography.  You will see there are two options - 0460 and 0976. (If you click on 0460 you will see a note to UK schools that it will be unregulated from 2020.  It will still be available but you would need to check with your exam centre if they are still happy to offer it.) 0976 is the new version, so let's click on that...

d) scroll down for a selection of Syllabus PDFs - let's say you are considering sitting the exam next summer (2019), so click on the first one in the list.

e) scroll down to the contents list (p3).  It's worth reading the whole syllabus, but I like to skip first to the bit about the exam papers (aka assessment) - in this case p5.  

f) you can see on p5 that the exam is divided into three required components: Paper 1 and Paper 2, and then either Component 3 (coursework, which rules external candidates out) or Paper 4 - alternative to coursework.  You can also see how long the papers are and how much of the exam mark they are worth.  The rest of the PDF gives information on the course content and further details on the assessment, to give you an idea of what your child is going to be needing to learn, and is really helpful to compare with another exam board -

so leaving that tab open I would head back to the wiki and repeat steps (a) and (b) to get to the wiki Geography page...

g) scroll down to the Edexcel section and click on the highlighted bit: 'Edexcel International GCSE Geography from 2011'. This takes you to the Edexcel syllabus page.  (For a quick link to the Edexcel subjects page that you can bookmark for future reference, click here). There is just one syllabus - you will see the code 4GEO. 

h) Click on the download button under the 'Specification' heading, and it will take you to a PDF overview which you can scroll through as before to find assessment requirements and course content. 'page 1' shows that there is just one examination paper (code 4GEO/01) so already you have a choice between one long paper and 3 shorter ones - which style suits your child best?
From the examination paper overview on 'page 5' you can see that the paper is divided into 4 sections: one is the alternative to practical - it helps if they have experienced a fieldtrip, but we managed fine without.  The other three sections comprise of a choice from 3 topics each - the student chooses 2 each from section A&B, and 1 from section D. 
IMPORTANT: we missed this fact in our first year and ended up wasting time studying the whole book when we actually only needed to choose 5 of the 9 given sections to learn - we didn't realise this until we started revising with past papers!  You can see it is vital to read through the Spec.s before studying, which is why I'm writing this guide today!

Finally, once you have compared the syllabus PDFs & understand a bit better what is required in each, it may help to also have a look at a couple of past papers to get an idea for style. These can be accessed via the exam board websites...
For Cambridge, go to your bookmarked link from step (b) and click on Geography 0976, then you will see a menu in the upper left corner with a link to past papers etc.  If you click on this you will access a list of downloadable papers.  Because 0976 is a new paper there are no available past papers but there are several downloadable specimen papers to give you a good idea of what you will be taking. The examiner reports are also valuable, especially once you get into the studies.
For Edexcel, go to your bookmarked link from step (g) and click on Geography. Scroll down and you will see a link in the bottom right under 'Popular Topics' for past papers
*Please note: since I wrote the above I have realised that the Wiki link goes to Geography 2011 which is the paper Eldest sat.  There is now a new syllabus from 2017 that can be accessed from the step (g) link but they do not appear to have any past papers yet.  Hopefully the above steps have helped you to familiarise yourself with the process.

Hope that helps - if anyone spots any updates or mistakes do please let me know!  I am planning on a year away from any exam-related Home Ed for my boys & will need to return to it all in 2019 when I need to start over again - so it had better make sense!

How to Study for IGCSEs - part 1, Choosing your subjects

Before I get into the practicalities, let me first stress that this is how WE did it.  We left school all those years ago because the 'one-size-fits-all' approach did not work for us, and I have no desire to try to replicate that here.  That said, and inspired by a friend who is new to Home Ed and looking to take her teen through IGCSEs, I thought I would write the kind of 'how-to' that I would have really appreciated when we started the exam route a couple of years ago.

Back then I wrote a blog post of everything I had learned about getting ready for the studies, called 'ABCs of IGCSEs'.  There is helpful information in there as well as an honest view of how we were feeling at the time.  But today I thought it might help to do an updated version with the benefit of more experience - for anyone who could use it, and for myself when it comes to Middle's turn to start on the IGCSE path if that's what he chooses after one more year of the fun stuff (I NEED a year off exam studies!)

So - if you're thinking of home educating your child through IGCSEs, where do you start?  First of all you need to make some choices...  (There are many alternatives for students who do not fit the IGCSE route for whatever reason - I am assuming any readers here already know that they want/ need IGCSEs).  Very simply you need to choose your subjects, exam board and exam centre.

1/ Subjects.
Unless your child wants to be a doctor or lawyer etc, it is very unlikely that they need any more than 5 subjects.  Schools do 8 - 10 or more because they have to balance the needs of all the students with the requirement to have the children in school full-time.  But most sixth forms etc only require five passes, so unless you know your child's chosen career path requires more, I personally recommend aiming for five.  Even if your child doesn't know what they want to do next, five solid passes gives a good base for moving on afterwards.
Maths and English are required by most employers and colleges, so that just leaves you with three to choose.  The more academic subjects (sciences, humanities etc) are fairly straightforward as they can be 100% exam-based.  They often include written papers as an alternative to the practical elements such as field trips and experiments.
Some subjects are more complicated - eg arts, languages etc because of the practical/ oral elements.  It is not impossible, but there are less centres willing to facilitate, so if you are looking at Art, drama, language, music etc further investigation is needed than I can provide here as we have only experienced more academic subjects thus far.  A good place to start is the HE Exams wiki which is the most invaluable resource you can use - I recommend bookmarking it.  It can be a bit daunting when you are just starting but is really worth putting the time in to familiarise yourself with it, and they have a handy QuickStart Guide for complete beginners.  Another place of excellent support, especially when it comes to having your questions answered, is the 'HE exams and alternatives' group on Facebook - worth joining FB for that alone!
The wiki has a comprehensive list of subjects that is worth looking at if you want inspiration of possible subjects

NB we covered five subjects over two years but rather than doing all five at once we divided it up and did two subjects in the first year, and three in the second year.  I will definitely adopt this approach again in future.  In terms of balancing stress and finances it was a no-brainer for us.
Unless your child has a strong aversion to it, I recommend that you make Maths one of the first subjects as it is a straightforward 'right-or-wrong-answer' subject which means you can spend more time learning to course content and less time worrying about exam techniques such as working out what the examiner is looking for.  For our second 'first year' subject we chose what we thought would be the easiest and least important of Eldest's two favourite subjects (Geography), saving his other favourite (Biology) for the second year as that was the one that we thought he would need the best grade for.

2/ Centre.
Once you have an idea of the subjects you want to take you will need to choose your exam centre and exam board.  If distance is not an issue for you or your local centre offers more than one board to external candidate you will be able to choose your preferred board (usually Edexcel or Cambridge - and possibly some other minor ones, found on the wiki.  If you are limited to choice of centre and they only offer one board, you will need to stick with their chosen board (more often than not if they only offer one it will probably be Edexcel).
For this reason I recommend asking other local Home Educators for recommended exam centres that accept external exam candidates.  There is also a list on the Wiki but if you don't find any to suit, you may also want to phone around local schools & colleges to ask if they accept external candidates. You will need an idea of cost up front as that may also influence how many exams you take in any one sitting, and ask them for the deadline for booking onto the exam - usually several months in advance of the exams.  (January/ June for Edexcel or November/ May for Cambridge)

3/ Board.
Once you have an exam centre in mind, if you are fortunate enough to have a choice in exam board you will want to look at the exam specifications, and probably some past papers to enable you to choose.
If you find you have a strong preference to exam board you may just need to be prepared to drive further in order to get to a centre that will facilitate it.
Personally I found the exam specifications the most confusing thing to get my head around.  I have written a step-by-step process for beginners to hopefully help walk you through it, and given it a blog post all to itself - coming next...

Friday, 8 June 2018

End of an Era #1

Today Eldest sat his final IGCSE of the season.  Any Home Ed parent who has travelled this road will understand how exhausted I feel - it takes a huge amount of mental strength to facilitate learning, revision etc at this level, and emotional strength too, to help your loved one through the peaks and troughs of learning to be tested, let alone carrying the weight of felt responsibility for their success (or failure).  To be honest, all I want to do now is nothing for the rest of the day - to just cuddle with the dog and watch a movie while the kids play on the Wii.  But - I also really want to mark this day - officially the last day of Eldest's home ed journey.  So even though I haven't blogged for many months (oops), I wanted to check in with today's thoughts before surrendering to couch-potatohood.

Now I know August's results are not guaranteed, but right now that is almost irrelevant to me.  I am just so proud of how hard Eldest has worked, and how much he has grown this year - both physically, at over 6 ft 2 (!), and personally.  It was most evident at the beginning of exam season when he turned up to the exam centre ready for his first paper only to discover there had been a terrible mistake and he had not been registered for his first (and best) subject, Biology.  He sat in the exam room for an hour waiting to see if the college would succeed in trying to get an emergency paper sent over, but sadly the exam board (Cambridge) refused.  On paper it sounds such a minor thing, easily summed up in a sentence, but in reality it was such a shock.  The whole year he had worked to prepare himself for this point, and we had been so pleased that his first exam to ease him into the season would be in his favourite subject - but now, not only was that paper cancelled but the whole subject jeopardised, and if that failed, what about next year's entry to sixth form?  As we sat in the principal's office later that day discussing the final refusal from Cambridge, I was so proud by how Eldest carried himself.  He didn't slump into depression or get carried away by anxiety, nor complain about how unfair it all was - all of which would have been understandable reactions.  He simply took it in and joined me thanking the staff for their efforts, and came away resolved to find a way forward.

Well, we now have a way forward of sorts.  Cambridge refused to let him sit any of the Biology papers so he has no chance of getting that IGCSE this year, but the college have done everything possible to be helpful and have said that if he does well in his other subjects they will still accept him onto the Biology A' level course in September.  This was such a relief, but on top of the week-long confusion over whether he would be able to sit any of the papers, it added pressure on him to do well in English (his worst subject) and Chemistry which he only started studying in October.  Thankfully we had had some extra tutor support in both those subjects, so we prayed and did our best to refocus, and although the stress on Eldest was evident over those few exam weeks, he showed so much character-strength that I could almost burst with pride.

So anyway we kept our heads down and continued revising, and this Wednesday afternoon we were going through his English revision when I realised this was it: the last day of involvement as Eldest's home educator (his last exam was today, but he consistently performs best after a day of rest so I steeled my nerves and scheduled in yesterday as a day-off).  As we read through the anthology I realised the significance of what we were doing just in time to really live in the moment and savour the last half-hour. We sat side by side on the sofa reading through one of my all-time favourite poems, "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou, with Eldest rolling his eyes good-naturedly and grinning indulgently at me every time I enthused about a particular line or the overall energy and attitude of the poem.  It was really special, and I'm so grateful for that moment - captured in my heart for ever.

Of course it's possible that he may not get good enough results in August to go to sixth form college, and we may have to take more time home educating him through retakes - or revising for the Biology IGCSE if he needs to take it in November while studying for his A-levels.  But right now I have to accept that in all probability my job here is done - at least as far as being his official sole educator is concerned.  And so we come to the end of this era.  When we were enduring the drudgery of learning of IGCSEs I often wished we could have carried on doing the fun stuff that I still get to do with Middle and Youngest, but right now I am grateful for those two hard years - not only has Eldest really grown and proved himself ready to go on to his new challenge of sixth form college, but I really won't miss those IGCSE studies!

One era finished - in the coming days I will refocus and make plans for the next season, having fun learning with Middle and Youngest while enjoying seeing Eldest take his next step growing in independence.  But the rest of today is dedicated to one long and relieved slump on the sofa - I figure I've earned it!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Local Authority: Friend or Foe?

I haven't done a generic post for ages, but recently in a Facebook group a new home educator asked a really important question: why we (the HE community) have to refuse LA visits.  I waited until I had enough time to write a decent answer as it's an important topic and one that many people gloss over but don't always fully understand.  The responses were that it was helpful, so I wanted to write it down here so that I could find it again the next time the subject comes up - which it does, often.  So here is my explanation of why the HE community generally seem so resistant to LA involvement:

Firstly it must be said that every home educator has a choice - nobody HAS to refuse - or indeed accept - a visit from the Local Authority.  It is true that there is a lot of emphasis on refusing visits within the Home Ed community - this is mainly because those with experience have seen too often how most Local Authorities do not understand their remit and send out letters requiring visits and making other demands that overstep what is legally required of them.

In law, HEors currently do not have to register, do not have to be monitored, do not have to have our plans and education officially approved.  This is because parents hold the legal responsibility for the education of their children.  Schools are monitored etc because parents have delegated their authority to then so somebody has to check that they are fulfilling that responsibility.

Unfortunately, society has become so brainwashed into thinking that school is the norm, that we just assume somebody else is in charge of educating our kids, and what we do must be evaluated by them.  The truth is, we are legally responsible for ensuring that our children receive a suitable education.  The LA's remit is simply to step in if they have reason to believe this is not happening and only then can they ask for evidence.  Only when they are sure that a child's education is being neglected can they take steps to send them back to school, but this is very rare, because what constitutes a suitable education is flexible enough to cover most educational philosophies.

The UK is pretty unusual in leaving the duty of care in the parents' hands where it rightly belongs, but even so over the years home educators here have had to fight government attempts to erode our proper freedom (there is another such attempt in the House of Lords at the moment).  Part of this fight has been to resist Local Authorities who are conditioned towards standardisation, monitoring and form-filling, and who assume a heavy-handed duty of care that is legally not theirs.  Therefore new HEors who have just deregistered their children are usually encouraged by the HE community to resist filling in LA forms or having them visit, to take time to deschool (get school-based assumptions about education out of their thinking) and understand better the implications of handing over our parental rights and freedom to an organisation.

Many new HEors are inclined to go along with LA demands because of not wanting to rock the boat, and because of advice from some who have had visits which seemed to go well.  However generally unless there is a specific reason for wanting the LA's input (such as single parents with an ex-partner who is anti-HE, or non-nationals needing help with visa renewal), most seasoned HEors (and I myself) would recommend refusal, at least to begin with.  Veteran HEors have been liasing with Local Authorities for many, many years to educate them (it is shocking how many do not appear to know or follow their legal remit), and establish clear boundaries, so it is always wise to consult the local HE community before engaging with the LA on any level.

For anyone reading this as a new HEor or without a clear reason to welcome LA visits, my best advice is to make sure you understand your legal rights and responsibilities (link here), then write a polite letter briefly explaining that you understand the law pertaining to Home Education, that you have all the support you currently need locally and nationally (Facebook is a great place to start), and either briefly outlining any plans you may have, or - more likely - explain that you are having a settling-in period while you investigate options, available resources etc, and that you will contact them in six months with a more coherent plan, which just needs to include resources (internet, library, local HE groups, any curricula), and a VERY brief overview (1-2 paragraphs) of what your HE has looked like so far, including your child(ren)'s deschooling process, especially if there were problems in school that took time for them to recover from.

Hopefully this has been helpful to new home educators, those wanting to explain why they advise refusal, and anyone else generally interested.  As always I'm really happy to answer any further questions - feel free to comment below!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

On a Roll

Sometimes we can be so busy with the day-to-day 'stuff' of home educating that we forget to notice how far we have come.  Just a cursory appraisal shows that since we started our Home Education journey Youngest has learned to read and write, and has developed a passion for all things tech-related, Middle has healed remarkably from the anxious and withdrawn child that he had become in school, and is now a very sociable boy who loves to read books and share what he has learned, and Eldest has grown from childhood to a young adult, taking on new challenges and starting to spread his wings.

This evening Eldest and I are going to a sixth form college to investigate the possibility of studying for A levels next September.  We were chatting last night about what questions he might want to ask them, and it struck me that he has spent over half his educational life learning from home - it's a long time since he was in a schooly environment!  It does feel pretty alien for both of us to be heading back into one.  And in one sense I am not ready, because we've only just got into our stride on this year's IGCSE studies - next September seems a long way in the distance: way after the summer exams which we are nowhere near yet!  But time marches on, and children grow up when you're not looking, and it is the season of open evenings, so here we are, getting ready to visit some colleges.

I know some home educators successfully study A levels from home, and we have considered it, but I don't think it would work well for us.  I will need to be able to concentrate more fully on Middle and Youngest - especially as Middle will be approaching IGCSE season himself - and I think it can be too easy for Eldest to lean on me when he studies from home.  He has learned some good autonomous-learning skills, particularly through the IGCSE studies, and I think he will benefit from the challenge of moving that to an external environment.  Plus there is the social side of things, which really dried up once he started exam studies, meaning that he was mostly too busy for the HE groups that his brothers enjoy.  He still enjoys youth group and church and has friends over from time to time, so isn't totally isolated, but sixth form will hopefully give him the opportunity to meet a wider circle of people again, and give him more opportunities to spread his wings a bit before heading to university (as is his current plan).

So that leaves us balanced with one foot in the future, considering colleges and making plans - and one foot in the here-and-now, studying hard the subjects that should enable him to follow those plans.  Now that Eldest is on a roll with English and Biology, and doing really well (hooray for overcoming the initial problems at the start of September), we are adding a third subject to his list of IGCSEs this year.  He did ask about doing ICT but it has proved to be difficult to find a college where he can sit the practical element for that.  Also we have realised that many universities like to have Chemistry as well as Biology A level for Eldest's desired degree subject, and seeing as he was already considering Chemistry IGCSE as well, we have decided to follow that route.  It's far out of my comfort zone, so we will be using an online course provider - probably Echo Education - and relying on Daddy who has an A level in chemistry for back-up.

And right now I am going to finish typing so I can help Eldest find the necessary piece of gauze for this morning's Biology experiment - and I am going to make the most of it because it's not going to be long before my hands-on involvement with his education will be no longer needed.  I am so proud of him, especially now he's on a roll again with his studies.  I just need to remember to step off the treadmill myself from time to time and enjoy it while it lasts!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

IGCSEs: What's the Point Anyway?

So we've only just started the new term, and already it's all about adjusting.  Before Eldest's summer exams he was working flat out, getting up early and working long hours, and I promised him that after the exams were over he could sleep as late as he liked for the rest of the summer.  He certainly took me up on that promise, in typical teen style - and has grown at least a couple of inches meanwhile so I guess it's been helpful.  It's not easy for him having to get used to studying to a timetable again though, or for me dealing with it, and I have already had to check my attitude.  It's so tempting to wish he could just carry on doing the fun stuff that I'm doing with Middle and Youngest.

I mean, what IS the point of IGCSEs anyway?  It's a much more boring way of studying than we used to enjoy and it's not actually proper learning in my opinion: I'm sure Eldest has already forgotten plenty of the Maths & Geography information that he crammed in temporarily for the June exams.  It's just pointlessly hard slog, isn't it?  Eldest and I can both can get pretty fed up with the whole ordeal, even this early on in term.

The obvious answer is that these seemingly pointless tests do actually have value - albeit in a limited way.  They are a gateway to doing what he wants to do.  At present Eldest wants to study A levels and then go to university.  There are cases of Home Educators who have gone to Uni without GCSEs or A levels, but I don't know if that included Science degrees, and Eldest and I felt that this was the best route for us.  So if cramming temporary knowledge for exams is what is needed, then that is what we will have to do.

And then I remind myself that even if he may not be learning much of permanence that is subject-based, he IS learning some really important skills for a lifetime.  Last month when we were expecting him to fail because of our joint rookie mistakes I reminded Eldest (and myself) of all that he had achieved regardless of the results of the days' testing.  As blogged previously, studying for exams rather than for pleasure caused him to grow in resilience, perseverence and maturity.  Unpleasant challenges can cause us to grow in character (if we let them) and to be honest that is far more valuable than whether or not we remember how to calculate using the irrational root of an integer.  So we are already reviewing some of these lessons, with more opportunities to develop character and approach tasks that we don't enjoy. Not the most fun to be had, but probably the most value.

So practically speaking that has taken us to some false-starts already this term. Firstly in English, where Eldest does NOT enjoy the subject - despite being an avid reader and creative-thinker, he finds it very hard to apply those skills in the way needed to master it as an academic subject and so has a significant barrier to overcome for every task required.  Life Lesson no. 1 right there: a negative attitude can make progress impossible but persistence and a good attitude reap huge results. Secondly in Biology the tasks are less of an issue than the sheer volume of work - there are a LOT of facts and concepts to learn, and we need to learn from the mistakes we made last year, and take better notes etc from the beginning. Note-taking is a skill in itself - and not one that comes naturally to him, so this is where we have hit life lesson no. 2: the work you invest up front makes your life so much easier when the pressure is on further down the line.

Life-lessons are the hardest to learn and I can't think of any that are instant.  And this is what I keep reminding myself whenever Eldest (or I) want to quit.  It's been difficult for him to transition from lazy summer-holiday mode back into hard-work mode, and if it gets too much I allow him a break to calm down and then we come back to it an hour or so later.  We have had to adapt and re-adapt our initial planned timetable, and are not at all on-track with the first one we drew up, but it's all good.  I am trusting that we will find our stride much earlier this time round than last year (when we never really found it, tbh).  So we have already faced opportunity for discouragement but are not going to give up - just adapt and keep moving on. Hopefully by the next blog post we'll be making steady progress. Meanwhile we are about to draw up Plan C (or is it D?) and are getting closer to the solution with every adjustment.

So basically the mantra I am rapidly adopting is that the point of IGCSEs is not so much about learning the subjects themselves - although they do have temporary value - but more about learning the life-lessons that studying for testing provides.  It seems to be mostly about growing up - learning to go through not-so-nice stuff in order to get to the goal you are aiming for... taking on some difficult challenges and allowing that process of growing through trials to work its magic.  So I will correct my attitude for the umpteenth time, as my wodnerful teen is also having to do, and we will press on and ultimately conquer.  Bring on the IGCSEs (again)!