Local Authority Exams Survey 2013-14
The present survey on local authority help with access to exams ran from September 2013 to March 2014. Local authorities were asked 13 questions about the type of information provided to home educators; plus details of LA links and development work with schools, the PRU, and local FE colleges. 81% of local authorities (123) responded to the survey, with a quarter saying that while there was nothing particularly good in terms of exams support at the moment, they did hope to do more in future. A further 10% of local authorities said they are currently revising their paperwork and procedures to improve their service, which would include providing more information about exams. Three quarters of local authorities say they give information about taking exams as a private or external candidate but this is mostly one to one. A quarter of councils don't have any written information at all for home educators wishing to take exams. Moreover the information on council websites is frequently out of date or misleading. State schools don't generally let young people who aren't registered pupils go in to the school just to sit exams. There are exceptions to this rule, but at present most councils can't name any local schools where home educated young people may sit exams.
A check on numbers in early 2012 found that local authorities were aware of around 20,000 home educated children and young people. Home educated children often start taking exams early for various reasons, so there could be several thousand home educated young people actually taking - or hoping to take - exams at any given time. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Home Education chaired by Graham Stuart MP held several meetings in 2013 looking at how to remove barriers to exam access for home educators, and also seeking to identify models of good practice amongst local authorities. The Department of Education's view is that "schools and colleges are under no obligation to provide examination facilities for candidates who are not on their roll" but "the Department will continue to encourage maintained schools and further education colleges to provide facilities for young people who are home educated to sit their examinations."
Case studies show that young people who had the most difficulty in finding an exam centre were those who were looking for somewhere to sit English or Science GCSEs, because of controlled assessment or practicals. There are very few centres that will take candidates for units that require controlled assessment, e.g. fieldwork, practical work in science, projects, artwork, research. Qualifications without controlled assessment such as International GCSEs or IGCSEs are a better alternative for external candidates. Not many state schools offer IGCSEs as they are not state-funded qualifications, therefore many schools who in theory will accept external candidates are still not a good fit for home educators.
Another group of external candidates who face considerable hurdles are young people with some form of special needs who require adjustments to the normal set-up in the exam hall, for instance by having extra time or the use of a keyboard. Only 10% of authorities have helped with Access Arrangements ie where an exam candidate needs an assessment for extra time or use of keyboard or scribe.
GCSEs are difficult for home educators but this does not mean that home educated young people cannot obtain well-regarded academic qualifications. One in three councils says it knows of local schools which accept private candidates; some local authorities say that their schools will take external candidates on a case by case basis but don't want to become known as "the centre for private candidates." 42% of the councils surveyed had asked schools about taking private candidates but only one in five said schools had responded positively. 15% didn't feel it was necessary - possibly because the Pupil Referral Unit or local Further Education college was already being used - or else said they would just deal one to one. A couple of authorities had talked to the Secondary Heads Forum.
15% of authorities said they hoped to put together a list of local schools which would accept home educated private candidates. Nevertheless it remains the case that some LAs simply do not see "support" as any part of their role; one respondent to the survey said the job was about "attending homes from the point of judging whether the education provided is suitable...to gauge the quality of arrangements...not in providing support and advice". It is a more sensible use of limited resources for a local authority to have accurate up to date written information about exams on the website which signposts to relevant sources of support, than for councils just to pass on information via individual conversations. Where possible the overview for external candidates should also be combined with details of any local schools, colleges, PRUs or other exam centres which have indicated a willingness to take external candidates. Electronic versions of leaflets can be easily produced and printed on request. The information and links can then be reviewed annually possibly in conjunction with ringing round/emailing to check that the information about local exam centres is still current.
It is relatively straightforward to provide basic information about taking exams as an external candidate. The best place to signpost for information is the FAQ on the home educators' exams wiki http://he-exams.wikia.com/wiki/HE_Exams_Wiki The most highly recommended online peer support group is https://groups.io/g/HE-Exams There are hundreds of local home education peer support groups throughout the country. Local groups can be an invaluable source of support and some local groups may be able to signpost to local study or tuition groups or have the most up to date information about local exam centres. Faregos, a long established home education group in South Hampshire with support from the local authority and the Examination Officers Association has become registered as an exam centre, and will be accepting candidates from Summer 2014.
Schools and colleges may be cautious about taking private candidates and it can be helpful to have answers ready. 10% of authorities are considering organising some sort of group meeting for home educating families in the coming year, and agree that access to exams could be one of the topics. A Working Group could look at improving local access to exams. An Open Meeting could be held, perhaps including representatives from college to explain the different options at 16 with and without GCSEs. 17% of local authorities have some form of arrangement for home educated young people to sit exams at a centre which provides education for children unable to attend mainstream school such as a Pupil Referral Unit or medical education centre, and a quarter of local authorities said it might be possible to use the PRU as an exam centre for home educated private candidates in future. Alternative learning centres may be more likely to take private candidates for IGCSEs than the "behaviour" PRUs. Half the LAs who do use this type of facility – including Bromley, Croydon, Kirklees and Southampton - say there is help with Access Arrangements (ie special accommodation to meet learning difficulties in exams)
It was suggested by several delegates at the Westminster APPG meeting that Pupil Referral Units could be used more widely for external candidates, particularly where candidates required nonstandard arrangements. For candidates who need Access Arrangements the centre must "paint a picture of need" which includes "normal way of working within the centre." Evidence of "normal way of working within the centre" will always be required for Access Arrangements, even where a candidate already has a statement of SEN; a report from specialist assessor (which may cost hundreds of pounds); or a verifiable psychological/medical condition. The local authority may already have established links with centres for pupils not in mainstream education – including Pupil Referral Units and Medical Education Centres or hospital/home tuition - and this type of centre will have experience of carrying out assessments and making arrangements for candidates' special needs. The PRU will also expect to make special or individual arrangements anyway rather than just putting all the candidates into a large exam hall. The issue for external candidates is that the centre is not familiar with the candidate's needs and therefore cannot attest to "the normal way of working within the centre" which JCQ requires for Access Arrangements. However, the local authority can facilitate introductions and act as a point of contact for any additional queries.
In March 2013 the Home Education APPG also held a meeting to look at the position for home educated under-16s applying directly to college. In June 2013 the Department for Education published guidance on new funding arrangements for electively home educated children at college. A relatively high number of local authorities – over half – had already approached local colleges but some have reported that colleges weren't responding positively or that colleges think it doesn't apply to them or they aren't willing to take under-16s. Two thirds of councils know about the new funding for 14-16 college places and are passing on this information to parents one to one but extremely few have anything on their website.
Survey Questions and Answers
1. Is there anything in your local offer to home educators regarding support for exams which you think works well and which you would be happy to share as a model of good practice?
19% yes, 26% not at present. Some authorities advise families that support is available to arrange an exam centre. 10% of LAs said they are currently revising their paperwork and procedures to improve their service and aim to offer more information about exams in future
2. Do you provide basic information about taking exams as a private candidate including IGCSEs?
44% yes, 30% yes but only 1 to 1, 10% not yet, 11% no
3. Do you have FAQ about exams and home education on your website?
38% no, 25% yes, 29% not yet but hope soon, 3% verbal one to one. A quarter of LAs said they had some sort of FAQ about exams on their website, with a further third saying they didn't have anything as yet but hoped to add something soon
4. Do you have a leaflet about exams for home educators?
41% no, 28% yes (mostly included in general leaflet), 9% not yet but hope to have something soon, 4% verbal or basic information given one to one
5. Do you signpost to other sources of information such as awarding bodies and home education peer support networks?
52% yes, 5% no, 9% not yet/planning more soon, 25% one to one or basic
6. Do you have a list of local schools which accept home educated private candidates?
32% yes, 33% no, 24% case by case, 15% not yet
7. What has been your experience of engaging with local schools to explain what is involved in taking home educated private candidates?
44% haven't tried, 33% to a greater or lesser degree but haven't had much success, 9% have had a positive reaction from schools, 2% have talked to secondary heads forum
8. Have you invited home educating families to a meeting to discuss access to exams?
44% no, 9% not yet/might do it soon, 18% deal one to one, 6% have other types of group meetings/ networking where topic of exams comes up. 18% of councils indicated that they only passed on information one to one, while 16% organised some form of group meeting or networking event to share information and listen to feedback on a range of topics. A further 10% of councils is considering organising some sort of group or open event in the coming year
9. Do you make use of the Pupil Referral Unit as an exam centre for home educated private candidates?
42% no, 15% yes, 2% yes but medical PRU or alternative learning centre not a behaviour PRU, 3% have no PRUs, 23% it's a possibility, 2% not appropriate, 2% done in past but not now
10. Have you approached local FE colleges to see whether home educated young people could take exams as external candidates?
17% no, 33% yes, 4% yes but colleges not keen, 5% tell parents to approach college, 15% not yet/planning more engagement, 1% in past but not now
11. Do you know which GCSE courses are running at the local FE colleges and are you advising colleges and home educating families about the new FE funding for home educated under-16s?
50% yes, 9% yes but not positive, 1% designated connexions to advise parents, 2% suggest parents approach college themselves, 12% planning more engagement soon, 10% no, 5% one to one advice
12. Does the LA help with assessments for Access Arrangements at all?
49% no, 9% yes, 10% would if appropriate, 6% not been asked, 3% say college or PRU would help with it, 3% theoretically say yes within limits
13. Has the LA considered running exam courses for home educated young people - possibly in partnership with a local college - including providing somewhere to sit the exam?
26% no, 4% yes, 3% looking into it, 9% not yet but maybe in future, 2% more were available in the past, 8% not necessary because other alternatives available
2012 Action List For Local Authorities
- Provide basic information about taking exams as a private candidate
- Make FAQ available on the Council's Home Education web page + via pdf/printed leaflet for new families Add pointers on how to find an exam centre and signpost to awarding bodies and local home education support groups and national support network for home educators taking exams
- Ask round local schools to see if anyone is willing to let home educated young people sit exams. (This could initially be restricted to the same exams which are being taken by children at the school.)
- Be proactive in engaging with schools and explaining what is involved. Seek to understand barriers and challenges for schools and consider how these might be overcome. Follow up initial enquiries, don't just wait for positive responses. Could you start with a pilot?
- Invite home educating families to a meeting to discuss access to exams
- Consider partnership working with local home educators to develop a viable exam centre. Could you start with a pilot?
- Investigate the possibility of using the Pupil Referral Unit (or equivalent) as exam centre for home educated private candidates. (As with schools, be proactive in engaging with the PRU and consider starting with a pilot)
- Approach the local FE College to see whether home educated young people could take exams as private candidates. As with schools and the PRU, be proactive in engaging with the college and consider starting with a pilot.
- When you are talking to the local FE colleges, find out what GCSE courses - if any - are being run
- Think about whether the LA could help with assessments for Access Arrangements
- Run exam courses for home educated young people - possibly in partnership with the local college - + an opportunity to sit the exam