What's the hurry? My child can always take GCSEs and A levels later if she wants to

Whenever I write about teenagers studying for GCSEs, several people always remark that there is no reason why qualifications have to be taken at home at the same age that they are at school. Why shouldn't a twenty year old take GCSEs if that is what she wishes? What's the hurry?

There are two main reasons why it is a good idea to get fourteen and fifteen year olds to sit their GCSEs at the same age as schoolchildren. Parents who talk vaguely of their children sitting these important examinations 'later' usually have a mindset which is twenty or thirty years out of date. At one time it was quite possible to take evening classes at a local college, either free or for a nominal amount, and take any GCEs or GCSEs which one had failed at school. It used to be quite common. These days of course, hardly any FE colleges do such a thing. The only GCSE exams which they handle tend to be re-sits and these are generally limited to those who have already taken them at school. They are not for home educated children as a rule. Because by this age, they will probably not be amenable to being taught by their parents, most will need to do the GCSEs via a correspondence course. These typically cost around £300 for each subject.

A far more important reason for taking examinations at the age of fourteen or fifteen is this. Most teenagers at that age do not have the sort of distractions which we have in adulthood. They do not have to work for a living, few of them have partners and children, they do not have to worry about paying rent or any of the other things that adults concern themselves with. They are free to concentrate solely upon their studies. This lack of distractions makes it far more likely that they will achieve good grades. How many nineteen and twenty year olds want to sit down day after day learning about the causes of World War I or how to solve quadratic equations? At that age, there are usually far more interesting things to be doing, like going to the pub or having romantic entanglements! Better by far to study like this as a child than as an adult.

A levels, if taken even a year or two after everybody else, prove an even greater problem. Because of the coursework involved and the higher level of academic work, it is very hard to do A levels except at a college or sixth form. I have in the past mentioned that it is almost impossible to get on an A level course at college unless you already have five GCSEs at grades A*-C, but there is another consideration. If you start studying for A levels over the age of nineteen, you have to pay for them. This is quite pricy. There is also the fact that as a young person of twenty you will be compelled to spend every day with a bunch of sixteen year-olds, not something that many young men and women would relish.

These are some of the reasons why if examinations are going to be taken by a young person, they should be taken at the same time as everybody else of the same age. The idea of 'taking them later' is a bit of a chimera. I have known one or two twenty year-olds study at college for A levels and it has not worked out terribly well. It may happen, but I have never heard of it, that a nineteen or twenty year old takes five GCSEs. This would be very unusual though and probably expensive. The fact is that if a child reaches the age of sixteen without taking GCSEs, then that is probably it as far as GCSEs and A levels go. She will, if she enters formal education at all after this age, find herself limited to BTECs. New Diplomas and vocational courses. Nothing at all wrong with these of course, but is would surely be better for the sixteen year-old to have as wide a range of choices as possible in her future academic career, rather than being diverted into certain channels purely as a result of her parents ideology.