A-levels at home or school / college?Edit
Most home-educated students go to college or sixth-form school to study for A-levels, or other qualifications such as BTECs. However, some students do continue to study from home at 16+. This page discusses your options, and has some advice from parents who have supported students in this situation.
See also: Science A-Levels
The changes to A-levels will open up more subjects to external candidates, as reliance on coursework and controlled assessment is being reduced. More subjects will be assessed by written exam only, which makes it much easier for home educated students to gain access to them.
A series of reforms to A-levels have been happening since 2013, to be complete by 2019.
New AS-levels in the first phase of subjects were examined in 2016 and new full A-levels in 2017. The new AS-levels do not contribute to the final A-level grade, and A-levels will all be linear, not modular - so you won't be able to resit just part of the qualification to improve a grade. You have to resit the whole thing.
The final first sitting of each old A-level will be the year before the new A-level comes in. The government has not announced final dates of resits but it is expected that there will be a resit opportunity one year after, so for instance the final sitting of 'legacy' science A-levels was 2016 with a resit opportunity in 2017.
First phase subjects are:
- Economics and Business
- Computer Studies
- Art and Design
Second phase subjects will change the following year, including:
- Modern foreign languages
- Ancient languages
- Religious Studies
Third phase subjects will not have their new AS exams until 2018 and the new A-levels in 2019. The most commonly taken subject is maths, but it's an extensive list:
- ancient history
- classical civilisation
- design and technology
- environmental science
- film studies
- further mathematics
- government and politics
- history of art
- media studies
- music technology
'Get The Facts' on A-level changes - government information on timeline of A-level changes, including full list of subjects in each phase.
[OCR's guide to A-level changes] is a helpful PDF document which includes a chart showing when each change is due to take effect.
International A-levels Edit
CAIE (Cambridge) International A-levels, still have November and June sittings, and which still have AS-levels contributing to the final A-level grade. These are available in the UK. They are generally accepted as equivalent to state-regulated A-levels by UK universities; most unis have made statements confirming this.
CIE gives the following explanation of CIE International A-levels and the A-level changes:
Will the Cambridge International AS Level be affected by the changes?
No. Another proposal is that UK AS Levels will no longer contribute to A Level outcomes and instead be separate, standalone qualifications. Again, this proposal does not affect Cambridge International AS Level. Our November and June exam series already offer students a number of assessment routes in their Cambridge International A Level studies. These options still apply. Students can:
- take all components of the Cambridge International A Level in one sitting (the linear route)
- follow a staged assessment route by taking all Cambridge International AS Level components in one exam series and completing the final Cambridge International A Level in a subsequent series
- take Cambridge International AS Level as a standalone option.
Edexcel International A-levels have no coursework - they offer exam-only assessment for all subjects, including sciences. They are NOT available in the UK, but you can take them at overseas Edexcel centres. Home-educators have attempted to persuade Pearson Edexcel to allow them to take International A-levels in the UK, but they have refused.
Science A-Level Changes Edit
For the new science A-levels, for AS exams from 2016 and A-level exams from 2017, candidates can take the exams without having any practical assessment. However, in this case their certificates won't have the "practical endorsement" on it. This will probably be required if you're applying to study science at uni, but may not matter otherwise. For more information, please see the Science A-levels page.
Which A-levels can you take as a private candidate?Edit
There is a helpful commentary and list at [The Student Room], and the list below is largely based on that. Please do visit the original for more information and suggestions from the author. Note that the new A-level sciences for exams for AS from 2016 and for full A-level from 2017 can be taken without the practical assessment. However, these A-levels without the practical assessment may not be accepted by most universities for practical science courses in this case - see the Science page for more information.
The list below refers to 'Legacy', ie old-style, A-levels only. The picture will change for subject availability through out the A-level reform process.
These are offered by all the exam boards:
- Business Studies
- Government & Politics
- Further Maths
- Religious Studies
Exam-only but less widely availableEdit
- Accounting (AQA & OCR)
- Ancient Greek (OCR; route pathway within Classical Civilisation A-Level)
- Anthropology (AQA)
- Arabic (Edexcel)
- Art History (AQA)
- Biblical Hebrew (OCR)
- Bengali (AQA)
- Classics/Classical Civilisation (AQA & OCR)
- Dutch (OCR; requires listening comprehension from a CD)
- Environmental Studies (AQA)
- General Studies
- Geography (AQA option B, and Edexcel)
- Global Development (Edexcel, AS-only)
- Greek (Modern)(Edexcel)
- Gujurati (OCR; requires listening comprehension from a CD)
- Hebrew (Modern)(AQA)
- Hinduism (CIE, mostly overseas centres)
- History (CCEA, mainly in Northern Ireland)
- History of Art (AQA & CCEA)
- Islamic Studies (CIE, mostly overseas centres)
- Japanese (Edexcel) - exam-only, contact the [Japan Foundation] in London for details of exam centres. [IIEL]: an exam centre in SE London which offers Japanese A-level and GCSE saturday classes and exams.
- Latin (OCR; route pathway within Classical Civilisation A-Level)
- Law (AQA, OCR & WJEC)
- Marine Science (CIE)
- Panjabi (AQA)
- Persian (OCR; requires listening comprehension from a CD)
- Polish (AQA)
- Portugese (OCR; requires listening comprehension from a CD)
- Sociology (AQA, OCR & WJEC)
- Statistics (AQA, option B)
- Statistics (OCR, AS-only)
- Turkish (OCR; requires listening comprehension from a CD)
A-levels with a Coursework or Practical elementEdit
- The sciences. 'Legacy' A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics all have lab practicals. There are a few exam centres where you can take these as a private candidate. New A-levels, with AS exams from 2016 and A-level exams from 2017, have an optional practical assessment - see the Science page.
- Popular Foreign languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Russian, Urdu all have speaking & listening tests, which may be arranged through language schools or some private exam centres. There are some less popular languages which are written-only. See below.
- History, English Language, English Literature - all have compulsory coursework, but there are some provisions for having this marked by tutors, distance learning providers or the exam board itself, in some cases.
- Geology, Archaeology, ICT/Computing, Human Biology, Electronics. All have fieldwork, projects or research assignments.
- Art, Design, D&T, Food Technology, Media Studies. All require portfolios.
- Music, Drama, Dance, PE. All include performance work.
Language oral tests may be arranged through language colleges.
More detail on subjectsEdit
See the maths A level page
A-level maths is available to private candidates from all the major exam boards. There is no coursework; it is exam-only and therefore straightforward to arrange. The modules offered, and syllabus, appear very similar across the boards. I enquired about transferring credit for completed modules from Edexcel to OCR and was told by the exam board subject helpline that this would normally be a formality for maths, although not necessarily for other subjects where there was more variation between the syllabuses.
'Legacy' A-levels - final full A-level exam in summer 2016. Resit-only opportunity in summer 2017.
New A-levels - first AS exams in summer 2016. First full A-level exams in 2017.
For more details please see the Science A-levels page.
A-level Classics and LatinEdit
All the major exam boards' Classics A-levels are coursework-free and so available to private candidates.
OCR Classics Suite has a range of options including Latin Greek Ancient History etc.
[Classics Academy] Classics and Latin A-level evening classes held in Westminster, London, aimed at school-aged children.
Edexcel A-level History includes compulsory coursework. They have approved a couple of distance learning colleges as moderators of coursework, but you can only use this facility if you are enrolled on their course (costing approx £400). - NEC for Modern History or distancelearningpartnership for Early Modern.
AQA receive the coursework and mark it themselves.
AQA have advised a member of HE-Exams that they will accept private candidates for A-level History, provided the parent informs them what topic the student will study for Unit 4. They would then advise on how to submit coursework for moderation.
OCR does not accept private candidates for A levels with coursework.
CCEA History is exam-only
AQA A level Archaeology is available for private candidates; exam-only at AS, but coursework for A2.
AQA A level Anthropology is available for private candidates. This exam does not have controlled assessment for either AS or A2.
Edexcel is exam-only and AQA has a non-coursework option, but OCR and WJEC require fieldwork
What is it like doing A-levels from home education? How do families decide whether it is right for them? Here are some comments from home educators:
The Ingle FamilyEdit
Jill Ingle has written a detailed article about her family's experience of home-educating two children through A-levels, just with the internet and textbooks - no correspondence courses, no tutors - and with outstanding results and a lovely family life to boot. Please see the Ingle_Family story.
"For us, the advantages of doing A levels at home, are just the same as the advantages of home educating at any age or stage.
From talking to children in school, I can see that an additional advantage at A levels, of home educating, is that schools sometimes can’t accomodate particular A level combinations. Also schools, often have their “own agenda” in terms of how many AS or A2 levels they expect.
A disadvantage of home educating at A level is that schools “know the UCAS system” so they have clubs and competitions etc. in place, which the students get involved in, and these activities then provide the student with fodder for their personal statement. If you home educate at A level, you need to arrange these activities yourself.
Another possible disadvantage, of doing A levels at home is the reference for the UCAS form, which the school would normally write. We’re just at the UCAS form filling-in stage. Apparently we can get a tutor, employer or someone else relevant to fill in the reference. If you don’t use any tutors, or use a combination of tutors, I can imagine that getting a reference which really “sells” the child might be a problem. We’re fortunate, in that my daughter is already working part time doing engineering work, and she plans to study engineering at university, so we plan to ask her boss to fill in the reference for her. Of course, he won’t be used to doing UCAS references, whereas schools are familiar with them. However, the UCAS web site provides advice to referees. So we wait to see how we get on with this. "
"The main advantage is that you can pick the subjects and pace that you want to work at. Sometimes the subjects you want to take are not always feasible at college due to clashes or the subject not being offered.
We have been able to sit units as they suited us, we particularly needed to just sit one exam per day, and were able to juggle sittings/subjects to suit. Now that January sittings are through there is less flex. I am not certain quite when the ability to bank AS and A2 units comes to an end.
On the downside, you have to pay for everything and do all the usual admin. Languages at A level are harder to accommodate exam centre-wise, we ended up going into the next county for a centre.
One other thought, it might well be possible to do some A levels at college and another one or two from home, might be worth exploring."
"I am listing our personal experiences of the exams DS sat between 1 and 4 years ago, so still current for the moment.
Must say above all else, it is just so crucial to get tutor guidance for the exam technique, as there is a prescriptive expectation which candidates must stick to, and it varies for different subjects...
AQA Environmental Studies, there is a recommended textbook which covers the spec well, although you do need to be quite up to date with current issues. It is possible to complete all four units without actually doing any field trips, although you will need to be aware of equipment and particularly the statistics part of the course too. We used Garry at theplanetearth to mark a mock and this proved to be the cheapest A level we sat.
AQA Economics, not the best choice of exam board, I plumped for this one because, at AS the exams are a split between multi choice and an essay, two essays at A2. The mistake was that AQA always shoved in some nasty questions and so it was nigh on impossible to score high marks. Edexcel have just essays. The Oxford IGCSE text by Moynham and Tipley is an excellent basis to build from.
AQA English, we did both Language and also Lang/Lit, Lang/Lit B is the only AS not to have coursework, but at A2 it is poetry heavy. We had problems getting recognition for an exceptional student when coursework was marked, even the tutor was interrogated and had to fill in extra documents on top of the regular authentication forms. Unless the process has changed, what AQA do is to gather all private candidate courseworks together and treat them as a 'school batch'. The assumption they then make is that a private candidate cannot hope to compete with a school who know how to play the system and thus expect B/C grade standard work.
Edexcel Modern History and also Early Modern History, boy what a cock-up! We ended up doing the coursework three times, due to tutor errors at NEC, it was a total nightmare. Since the problems we had NEC have zeroed any choice of topic for coursework and you have to do what they specify. We used distancelearningpartnership for Early Modern, and that was ok, they had had a battle royal with Edexcel to get permission to run the course and moderate coursework. If I had managed to locate a local teacher to take us through the coursework we would have sat AQA.
Government and Politics, we used Edexcel although the texts were a bit dry. This is a good example of checking which exam board suits best, we have found in general that AQA offer the clearest texts and Edexcel the fairest exams. DS just studied the texts and then we managed to find a tutor on Skype who happened to be an Edexcel examiner so we got clear guidance for the exam technique.
General Studies AQA, a bit of a hoot when you know the technique required. Thanks to a focused tutor in Essex, DS managed to get 100% for all four units. He read the recommended textbook and had no great surprises, and then had around 4 or 5 sessions over skype. The secret? Oh, all right, you just keep writing and writing, mention as many points as possible, you get more marks for the more points you make, of course they need to be relevant!
French, WJEC, a nicer board for the specification, but beware the possibility of getting a high grade boundary due to the smaller number of students sitting the exams. One unit DS sat had a boundary of something like 94% for an A...I think you really need a clued up tutor for WJEC, one who understands how the spec works together between AS and A2, and also steers students away from choosing two films to study for the A2 unit, it's better to do a book/film or two books.
That is most of it I think, it was extremely hard for us, we changed exam centres 5 times for various reasons, often incompetence of the exam officers. Because it was such a struggle I am happy to share and discuss the choices we made.
Ask me if I would do it again, I might, but only because I have learnt so much and it is a shame to waste it."
A-Levels In One Sitting? Retakes? Edit
Does it matter if you spread your A-levels out over 3 years or more? What about resits? Some universities, or some departments, specify that A-levels must be taken in one sitting, ie 3 A-levels with final exams taken in the same exam season. Others do not have a policy on this. Some say that applicants with resits will not be disadvantaged, whilst others may say they do not accept resit grades. Usually the university will make a statement about these things on its 'Information for applicants' page, and then on the department/ course listings you may find more detail about requirements for a specific course. The reason for prioritising first-time grades and 3 A-levels in one sitting is that very competitive courses may be fast-paced and they want applicants who will be able to keep up with the workload. Some degree courses have a lighter workload than others or may be more flexible.
Here are some examples of university statements about timing of A-levels:
Bristol University Edit
- We accept A-levels taken early in accordance with the relevant course admissions statement, subject to the following condition.
- We normally expect you to have taken three A-levels (or equivalent qualifications) in one sitting. If you haven’t, please ask your referee to explain the reason for this in their reference so we can take it into account when considering your application.
- Some courses have restrictions on applicants resitting their A-levels. Check the relevant admissions statement to find out whether this applies to you.
East Anglia, University of Edit
For most courses, you don’t need to have achieved all of your A-levels in the same sitting and we do consider resits. But there are a few restrictions and these are mainly our Pharmacy and Medicine degrees.
Entry requirements do vary from course to course, so it’s best to have a look at our Course Finder, search for the course you’re interested in and look at the Essential Information section, where you will find the Entry Requirements for that particular course.
If you have any further queries about entry requirements please contact our Enquiries Team on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Exeter University Edit
We will treat an achieved or predicted qualification grade in the same way irrespective of whether or not re-takes are involved (this applies to all our programmes with the exception of our BMBS Medicine programme – for further detail please view the BMBS Medicine policy).
Where predictions are not available for those applicants who are re-taking part or all of a qualification, we will normally base our assessment on the assumption that they are likely to achieve one grade higher than their original result.
The University does not discriminate against applicants who have re-taken part or all of a qualification. [source: General Academic Entry Requirements]
Imperial College, London Edit
The majority of our entrants will hold A* or A grades in all their subjects at A level. Programmes require excellent passes in a minimum of three A levels, two of which will usually be required in the following subjects: Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry or Biology. Programme specific entry requirement details are provided in the College’s undergraduate prospectus and within the UCAS entry profiles.
Applicants for medical programmes are required to achieve the three required A levels in one sitting.
Applicants may also not present two A levels in the same subject awarded by two different examination boards that have been sat in the same sitting. [source]
Kent, University of Edit
If you are unsuccessful in gaining a place, this does not prevent you from applying to Kent again in the future, especially if you are retaking your exams or taking additional qualifications. [source]
King's College, London Edit
Early sittings Edit
Please note that whilst King’s encourages students to stretch themselves academically, students who are entered early for their examinations should have the potential to achieve the same grade as might be expected if they were entered in the standard year. Therefore, if you gain an A-level B in Year 11, this will not be considered as good as a student who achieved a grade A in year 12. 
Loughborough University Edit
The majority of our courses will consider applicants who are re-sitting their exams according to the standard selection process.
London School of Economics (LSE)
Given the competition for places and the nature of assessment at LSE, we prefer students who have achieved high grades in their first attempt (and in one sitting) at relevant examinations. If extenuating circumstances have impacted your exam performance, you should include details of these in your application.
Manchester University Edit
Applications will be considered against the standard selection process of your chosen course if you have either:
a) sat your examinations early;
b) followed an accelerated curriculum and spent three years studying A-levels where the examinations were taken over two years.
If a student is studying an advanced curriculum where the examinations are spread over three years, consideration for an offer will be at the discretion of the academic School for that subject. Each applicant in these circumstances is considered on a case-by-case basis and we may request further information to support our overall review of the application. [source]
Warwick University Edit
4.7 Non-standard patterns of examination entry and resits Edit
The University normally expects applicants to demonstrate that they can succeed on a demanding course of study within a defined timescale, as exemplified by (but not limited to) the achievement of three A levels (not including General Studies and Critical Thinking) over the course of a maximum of two years of study.
Students who resit individual units to improve their A-level grades within this timeframe will not be penalised. However, students who resit their final Year 13 examinations may be at a disadvantage when considered alongside those who have attained the required grades within the usual timeframe. Some courses will not consider candidates who have taken three years to reach the required level of attainment.
Though all applications will be considered on their individual merits, students who follow a curriculum where the normal number of required examinations are spread over three or more years may be at a disadvantage when considered alongside those who have attained the required grades within the standard timeframe, and some courses will not consider such candidates.
If students take examinations early (relative to the majority of the cohort) allowances will not be made for lower grades achieved.