A curious case of apparently autonomous education

I am often accused of ignoring evidence for successful autonomous education, although this is not really true. I examine everything in this area closely whenever I get the opportunity. So I was intrigued a couple of days ago when somebody posted the following here;

' My AS child took science GCSE's as a way of consolidating her knowledge, and was very disappointed when she realised that her knowledge already far exceeded that which was necessary for the GCSE course. She got A*s without doing a stroke of work. She is completely self-taught, and was teaching me by the age of 11.'

What are we to make of this? Firstly, it is apparently being touted as a case of autonomous education without any teacher being involved. ' She is completely self-taught' certainly suggests strongly that she taught herself without anybody actually teaching her. For most people, this would indicate that she has not been attending school. Also, this comment was posted following a discussion of autonomous education and home education. The implication is plain. This is certainly the impression which others gained as well. The next comment was;

' well done to your daughter for learning so much without a course, Simon really has no idea, does he?'

This person too seems to have got the impression that the child passed the GCSEs without actually studying a structured course, either at school or anywhere else. She already knew more than enough to pass the GCSEs and barely needed to glance at the syllabus. A clear triumph for the autonomous method.

I found this all very interesting for several reasons. Firstly because I give advice and assistance to some local parents who have withdrawn their children from secondary school. They all want their children to take GCSEs although this is very difficult because of the problems of coursework and practical investigations. If it is possible to take ordinary GCSEs without following a distance learning course or attending school, this would be pretty exciting. Most find GCSEs almost impossible to do out of school unless they have a few hundred pounds to spare on a distance learning course, which these people don't. Science is particularly tricky, because of the practical work. The second point is the use of the plural; ' science GCSE's ' , ' She got A*s '. Obviously, this person's child did not take the usual double award science but instead opted to take separate sciences; biology, physics and chemistry. Now I have to say that I have never heard of any home educated child managing to do this with the standard GCSEs, due to the problems about authenticating coursework and carrying out the practicals in the laboratory. I don't say it has never been done, simply that I have never heard of it, either in those home educators whom I know or on any of the lists. Naturally, I wanted to know more about the business.

Most home educated children who wish to have qualifications in sciences take the International GCSE or IGCSE. This gets round the problem of practical work in the laboratory. There is simply an extra paper which replaces the practical. This is how my daughter took her examinations in physics, biology and chemistry. My daughter of course did not attend school for a single day of her life, nor did she ever follow a distance learning course or anything of that sort; a genuine case of home education.

Now one of the people who commented about this may well have thought that, ' Simon really has no idea, does he?'. I understood this to be a reference to my supposed inability to appreciate the efficacy of autonomous education. Actually, I did have an idea; the idea being that there was more to this case of a child apparently being completely self-taught and breezing through separate sciences at GCSE than met the eye. So it proved, because when I asked about the circumstances, I was told, 'To answer your question on yesterday's post, my child did GCSE's at school.' This is pretty breathtaking. After claiming that the child was, ' completely self-taught, and was teaching me by the age of 11.' we are now told that she actually attended school and took her GCSEs there like everybody else.

It's a good job that I took the trouble to ask about this because otherwise people might have gone off with the impression that here was a child who simply taught herself science by the age of eleven and then passed science GCSEs without studying any course or syllabus. Let's hope that this scotches at least one little myth in the making. In fact this is just the sort of anecdote which many parents of ordinary schoolchildren tell all the time and nothing to do with home education. I have lost track of the number of parents who have told me, 'My daughter is so bright. She already knew everything that the teachers tried to tell her and she didn't do a stroke of work; just sailed through her GCSEs. And she got A* for them all'. My daughter did actually get all A* for her IGCSEs, but it took some pretty hard work by me teaching and her studying! I couldn't truthfully say of her that 'she didn't do a stroke of work'! See;


Shortly after this discussion on the comments, somebody posted a link to a GCSE course in Coventry which they thought might be suitable for home educated children;


I followed this up, but it is really aimed at overseas students from whom fees may be extracted. The person to whom I spoke at the college was surprised at the idea of a teenager without any experience of previous GCSEs starting the course and did not think it very likely. Back to the drawing board I fancy on this one.