I am sort of going to have a moan here but hopefully people will bear with me and understand where I am coming from. In recent months at the NSW exam exam centre we have spoken with a number of parents whose children have been enrolled with various learning providers on specific A level and GCSE courses where it is very difficult (dare I say virtually impossible) to track down an exam centre able to accommodate the needs of the candidate and accept their exam application.

This may be relating to subjects like GCSE geography where the head of centre has to confirm that the candidate has undertaken fieldwork or subjects like Edexcel A level history where there is compulsory coursework component that has to be marked in the exam centre.

I have no doubt that there are exam centres out there that are able to help home educating parents to jump these hurdles. The reality is, however, that these are very few – and getting fewer in number. It is hard enough locating exam centres where the candidate is simply going to be sitting written exams.

I will be frank and say that I get very cross with some distance and online learning providers who appear very cavalier in their choice of subjects and exam boards! I recently heard of one provider arguing that it is quite possible for home educated students to sit AQA English language exams, but if that was problematic it was okay because the Edexcel syllabus was ‘quite similar’. Some one else told me the story of a company whose staff told parents that ‘science is science’ and that it didn’t really matter if their child was entered for Edexcel IGCSE biology when the course they were studying was preparing them for AQA GCSE biology! I am not blowing NSWLearning’s trumpet here and being disparaging towards all of the other course providers out there. The truth is that there are some very good companies who do excellent work. Unfortunately there are others who are less ‘professional’.

Can I make a suggestion to home educating parents? Before opting for a GCSE/IGCSE/A level course do some homework of your own. Have a close look at the specification/syllabus to make yourself well aware of what is expected of your daughter/son. Particularly look out for any non-examination components, like oral or coursework and also look out for subjects like the GCSE science where the head of the exam centre has to sign a form confirming that the candidate has completed the required experiments. They will not take your word for it that Jane or Johnny did actually do all of those experiences!

Try to ask for help from other home educators who have gone down this path before you; whilst there are plenty of groups on Facebook who can give you some help, why not join one of the real-world home education support groups like Education Otherwise, the Home Education Advisory Service or (for Christians) CHESS. Feel free to give us a call at NSWLearning – we will not try to talk you into using our courses (promise!). As people who home-educated all four of our children, we will listen and try to point you in a direction.

Finally, can I suggest that you track down an exam centre before commencing study and, ideally get a confirmation in writing from the exam centre that they are able to accommodate all of your needs. This might seem like overkill, but it has helped one or two of our overseas families ensure that the exam centre will continue to provide exam facilities for them even after there has been a change of exam officer or head of centre.