Education - sitting GCSEs privately/independently (relating to state schools)

EDIT: I’ve edited thread title as it’s not really to do with private education/public schools per se.

I’m sure this differs around the place in the UK, we have all manner of exam boards etc., but does anyone have any experience with needing to get a child to sit an examination not offered by their school? Is there some unifying body, or a comapny that can organise this, including/excluding necessary educational needs, or is it all done ad hoc.

Out of the blue (well, with very short notice) my daughter has to choose 3 GCSE options during lockdown on top of the core subjects. She’d decided on 3 subjects but her 2 favourite subjects clash in the options choices so unless the school will allow me to let her sit both with some kind of jiggerypokery we may need to look at other avenues - I’d rather not.

Also, I think the pandemic has caught us on the hop as parents, we’d have had a lot more interaction with the school in normal years, we knew there’d have been decisions towards the end of the year, this just seems to have landed unexpectedly - maybe our fault, maybe the school’s I don’t know.

I don’t have direct experience of this, however I would start with identifying the exam boards that offer a gcse in the relevant subject. Compare syllabus if there are more than 1 to see if you have a preference for a particular board. Contact that board for more info, and to find out if there is an alternative centre near where you live than can offer exams. You would need official adjudication for written exams, as a minimum.
Our eldest had a choice of 2 upper schools, and we picked the one that doesn’t offer gcse dance. But she can do that through her dance school instead.
Apparently she’ll be making gcse choices just 1 year from now, she’s not yet 13.

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I’d simply tell her to choose options that don’t clash. Life is about compromise and it’s a good lesson in not getting everything you want. It will be a right hassle doing a single gcse at a different school and neither school is likely to be happy with such an arrangement.


Yes, we’d prepared her for this, but naturally when things don’t work out as you’d like it can be disappointing.

We weren’t planning on splitting things between 2 schools, just maybe seeing if she could study one of the subjects she has enthusiasm for outside of school and then sit the exam (either at the school or an approved center).

Thankfully, the panic is over, I spoke to one of the teachers this morning and they had realised that this clash potentially affected many pupils, so her original options will hopefully now be feasible.

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You can enter for an exam privately and it is unlikely to clash with another subject because of the way exam boards timetable their exams. You can find out by enquiring with exam boards directly or through your school. Schools use different exam boards for different course subjects, so you will need to find that out and if there is going to be a clash it will likely be because of that.
Clashes in subject choices occur because of timetabling issues when trying to deliver the courses available. This will depend on student option choices made and the staff available to deliver it. Depending on the subjects concerned and whether there is a shortage of qualified staff employed at the school to deliver that course, will ultimately determine whether that course runs. So it’s a combination of several things and sadly, not possible to satisfy everyone.
Privately tutoring is another choice of course, but the child would need to be deadly serious about it because of the cost and additional time required.

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Result. Would have saved me typing my claptrap if I’d seen this earlier.

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Thanks HH!

Not claptrap at all adeypoos, the parental presentation we’ve had this evening essentially explained this. There are other constraints such as H&S where there is a limit on numbers due to classroom equipment eg cookers or computers.

Private tutoring (perhaps me) was what I was potentially considering for a subject which is primarily linguistic/written with little practical requirements.

It’s also difficult for kids at her age to know what their career plans are, as those could well change.

I’m utterly impressed by the school’s presentations (state school), attention to detail, and eagerness to ensure pupils get as many of their preferred options as they can.

Having sat ‘O levels’ decades ago, I’m utterly impressed (again) by the number of vocational options on offer, and I’d have jumped at many of these years ago had I not needed specific academic subjects for my career.

I’m constantly amazed at how education has improved since I was at school, is more diverse, inclusive and provides pupils with far better tailored options than in the 80’s.

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Sensible advice, a bit of a panic last night, sent a few emails to teachers this morning but they were already aware of certain issues and have hopefully resolved them.

It feels horrible having to email them and feeling pushy, it may have made no difference if they were already aware, but you have to do your best for your children whenever possible.

If your daughter has any love of tech/computing there is a huge drive for STEM education for girls currently, possibly to the detriment of boys in my view.

If she might be interested look at the 2022 version of these:

Cyberdiscovery is very impressive:

Although it’s more than 60 years ago, I well recall the dilemma I had when choosing my ‘O’ Level subjects. Maths, Eng Lang, Eng Lit and French were a given - no choice.

Physics and Chemistry were a pretty common choice which I included but, and this is the nub, I wanted to do Geography and Biology. They didn’t fit within the timetable.

Headmaster offered me Geography and History as an option and pointed out that I had done (surprisingly and) exceptionally well in my end of year History exam.

History was a dull, boring, chore. Worse still, the only reason I had done exceptionally well in that end of term exam was because the teacher had placed the master copy of the exam paper on my desk (I sat in the front row !) for a whole lesson, just one week prior to the exam !

What do you mean ! “did I peak ?”

I actually enjoyed the next two years of History and did rather well in the ‘O’ Level exam !

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Great story!

I did Latin at school. And technical drawing at O level. Neither my choice as I recall. I’m determined not to force my choices on my daughters. I didn’t do German, or biology as a consequence.
We’ve just made our upper school choices, received choice number 1, to start in September. The decision pretty much boiled down to which school seemed to offer the best choices at gcse, and so F won over Q. Q forced RE at gcse, F had a much wider scope subject called pshce plus careers. Plus they had subjects that I don’t think existed in the 80s. Photography gcse and different flavours of computers / technology.
There is a stem pathway and they do 3 separate sciences at gcse (Q that was an option that removed 1 choice for other subjects) … it seems to be so much better than my o level options and experience.

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I wanted to do Latin but was unable to do so, though may have enthused my daughter at age 7! Unlikely to be an exam option currently, just cerebral.

As you mention we do not want to influence our youngsters choices, but perhaps can offer some subjective/objective guidance from our own experiences/mistakes.

The RE thing bugged me until the presentation as it’s not RE of yesteryear. I’m a dinosaur. Apparently local state schools have mandatory RE of an hour a week, so the school feel that sitting the exam is appropriate even if the kids aren’t that interested and I tend to agree. Every qualification/experience will count in later years.

This is what F school offer versus what seems to be more RE as in religion at Q school. We didn’t do anything like this!

I thought I would post , as a bit of fun , part to the O Level GCE Maths paper I sat back in much simpler times .

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Mine was ‘85 and I remember there was a question about a girl drinking lemonade through a straw of specified dimensions, and I think you had to determine how quickly she would empty the glass.

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Don’t worry, that’s what this forum’s for. :innocent:

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Late to the thread, but a couple of general points that might be of use:

Any exam centre (which is what exam boards call anywhere authorised to administer exams - in practice, it mainly means schools, but also prisons and other exotica) can enter any person for any exams they are prepared to administer and pay for. I’ve known schools allow local folk to sit exams they’ve prepared themselves for - retired blokes doing Astronomy GCSE is a common one. You don’t have to be a pupil, though this sort of thing is obviously entirely within the gift of the exam centre, and some might not be minded to bother with people outside their usual purview.

So, if your child were ready to sit an exam, even if it wasn’t one taught by the school, they could nonetheless sit the exams at that school. Of course, if there’s a practical component that the school wasn’t equipped for (cookery, for example), the school could quite reasonably decline to do so, but if it were just a ‘paper’ exam, most would probably be accommodating.

In all these cases, the person whose friendship you should cultivate is the Exams Officer. They usually fly liw on the school radar, but harbour a surprising amount of information and wield much power. Don’t piss them off.


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