For English Literature see here


English Language GCSE or IGCSE is a 'gateway' qualification which is a requirement for many college courses and jobs. English Literature is an 'optional extra' for home-educated students and is only really necessary if you want to take English A-level. See the English Literature page for more on this.

If you've read this page but still have questions - Join the HE Exams community to get support from fellow home-educators. There is a Facebook group: Home Education UK Exams & Alternatives, and an email group, the HE Exams Yahoogroup.

Home-educated students usually take IGCSE (International GCSE) English Language because GCSE English Language has a speaking and listening component and it's very difficult to arrange for this for external candidates. See here or the English language page for an explanation of why it is an issue for external candidates.

Some home-ed students take a part-time college course to obtain GCSE English. For more on this option, see college for 14-16 year olds.

Options for IGCSE English Language are:

  • CAIE First Language English (0500)
  • Pearson Edexcel IGCSE English A
  • Pearson Edexcel IGCSE English B

The CAIE O Level in English Language is also still currently available.

English Qualifications and 16-19 College Funding: For college at 16-19, students who don't have GCSE English at grade C or above have to continue studying English until they reach that level. IGCSE English language or literature meets this criteria; if you have a 4 or C at IGCSE then you do not have to continue studying English. [There may be a recent update to information regarding GCSE/IGCSE English and functional skills and college funding: awaiting confirmation of details ]

The English Language and Literature IGCSEs for Home Educators' Facebook group supports parents helping their children prepare for these exams. It is primarily designed for parents who are not buying in tuition or correspondence courses.

English Language IGCSEEdit

William Shakespeare 1609

The most popular options are CAIE (Cambridge) First Language English (0500) and Edexcel IGCSE English - choice of Specification A or Specification B.

Here is a helpful summary of English Language options, from tutor Catherine Mooney:

This is just written from my experience of the various English Language IGCSE specifications that we have (i.e. the exam-only options that don't feature coursework). I should say that they are all about 80% identical to each other so these differences I have noted in my experience of teaching them should not be regarded as deal-breakers:

Cambridge (CIE). This is a popular choice however in my experience it can be quite challenging (more so than the other specs) because SOME of the writing tasks are quite complex.

Edexcel Spec A. This is my favourite specification. It has two exams. To do this you need to be familiar with an anthology of fiction and non-fiction pieces (available online). The exam always features two pieces from the anthologies which are reprinted in full in the exam paper, so you don't have to memorise anything. This takes a huge chunk of the 'unknown' element out of the exam.

Edexcel Spec B. This is perhaps the easiest of all the specs because such a high proportion of the marks are awarded for straightforward comprehension style answers. However the grade boundaries are higher than for Spec A (so it's harder to get the C grade in other words) and at 3 hours long is it a bit of an endurance test.

I do hope this is helpful. I must add that this is just my own opinion from my teaching of the various specifications over the years. I am sure other people have different experiences to report - however I hope this is helpful in some way.

Catherine Mooney Tutoring

Edexcel English Language IGCSEs Edit

The previous A*-G specifications had their last UK sitting in January 2018 and from Summer 2018 they have moved to 9-1 grading. Please check on the HE Exams discussion groups for more detailed information about the changes.

Edexcel have two IGCSE English Language options at IGCSE - Specification A and Specification B. They also offered an Edexcel Certificate for state school pupils, but this has now been withdrawn as it no longer counts for league tables. (Final resit was summer 2017).

Dedicated textbooks for Edexcel IGCSE English Language:

Edexcel IGCSE English A & B Student Book with ActiveBook CD

Edexcel IGCSE English Language Specification A Edit

The code for this qualification is 4EA0 (that's a zero, not a letter O)

Edexcel IGCSE English Specification A

  • Two written papers - paper 1 is 2hr 15m, paper 2 is the 'Alternative to Coursework', 1hr 30m
  • Anthology of written material provided for preparation beforehand. This anthology is used for Edexcel IGCSE English and English Literature.
  • Specification from 2012 is current spec, with first exams in 2012.
  • Previous specification for teaching from 2009, ie exams from 2011, is virtually identical so good for practice.
  • Earlier specification is English 4355; still useful for practice for comprehension pieces, and some of the anthology pieces are the same. Past papers via Edexcel search for English 4355

From the Edexcel page on the current specification:

This specification ..covers a broad range of reading and writing.

The Edexcel Anthology for International GCSE English Language (A) and International GCSE English Literature covers the reading requirements of the course, and is for use throughout the course and in the examination.

Key subject aims:

  • To develop the ability to read, understand and respond to material from a variety of sources, recognising and appreciating themes and attitudes and the ways in which writers achieve their effects
  • To develop students' understanding of the spoken word and their ability to participate effectively in various speaking and listening activities
  • To develop students' ability to construct and convey meaning in written language, matching style to audience and purpose.
  • The Edexcel Anthology for International GCSE English Language (A) and International GCSE English Literature is provided for use throughout the course and in the examination. You can download it for free from the subject homepage.

Edexcel IGCSE English Specification B Edit

The exam code for this specification is 4EB1 (the old A*-G specification was 4EB0).

It's described as the 2016 specification because it was for first teaching from 2016 although first exams are in 2018.

Edexcel IGCSE English Specification B (2016)

One 3-hour exam, no anthology, ie no literature content.

From Edexcel's site:

This specification is based on the former GCE O level in English Language, and retains the requirement for a wide vocabulary and accuracy in the use of grammar, punctuation and spelling, while encouraging the student to acquire a range of skills through the study of lively and relevant source material.

Key subject aims:

  • To read a range of material from a variety of sources, including literary material, non-literary material and media
  • To read for a variety of purposes with understanding and enjoyment
  • To use written English for a variety of purposes, such as narration, argument, giving instruction and information, imaginative writing, making reports and demonstrating understanding of content, paying due attention to the appropriateness and quality of written expression.

English tutor Catherine Mooney says:

"Less text analysis is required (at least of a literary kind) and there is only one 3 hour exam. For students wishing avoid an anthology (Edexcel A) and some of the complexity involved in the Cambridge (CIE) IGCSE course, this could be a very workable alternative. "
One parent wrote:

"I taught the Edexcel IGCSE English Language Specification B to my son.  We found it to be a really great choice for him (he has dyspraxia).  The textbook wasn't great  for Spec B (better for spec A) so we used alternative products. We found the Oxford English: An International Approach books very accessible as his writing ability was at a very low level indeed when we removed him from school in year 8, but these are likely to be too low a level for someone with average or above average ability in English."

Please read the next section for more on the relative merits of Spec A and Spec B.

Should I choose Spec A or Spec B? Edit

Spec A is almost identical to the Edexcel Certificate English, which was used in state schools (last exams 2016), with the addition of a Speaking and Listening Assessment. Spec B is based on the old O-level syllabus.

A member of the HE-Exams group asked for opinions on Spec A versus Spec B - did Spec B involve less emphasis on how writers created their effects? What about the length of the exam papers? Here are some of the responses (reproduced with the permission of the authors):

J's Comments: Edit

My daughter opted for Spec B this summer just gone. She’d already done an English Lit IGCSE which she hadn’t enjoyed. She’d enjoyed the texts themselves but really objects to having to answer essay questions in such a formulaic way. She got quite bolshy about it and it was a struggle to persuade her to do a great deal of work. She managed a C, which we were very pleased with considering!

So when it came to English language there was no way she was going to do Spec A! I don’t think it is a cop out and it’s most certainly not second best – it’s just a different style of exam. It’s actually very much like the old O-Level that I sat many years ago. There is still some consideration on the way writers create their effects but it is emphasised less and seemed, to my daughter and I, to be quite straightforward. In one past paper, for example, there is a question which asks ‘In the first three paragraphs, the writer gives an account of an activity he took part in. What did the writer feel when he was told to jump?’ and then goes on to ask ‘In your own words, describe two of the writer’s thoughts and feelings after he has jumped.’ It’s testing straightforward comprehension really

It would be useful for you to download the past papers available from the Edexcel website and go through them with your daughter. She can then see what she feels about them.

My daughter found the first section (Comprehension) and the third section (choice of three essays) the easiest. For this third section we identified which types of essay come up (descriptive, argumentative, narrative etc) and she worked out which she was best at, plus a ‘reserve’ one in case her favourite style didn’t make an appearance. She hates argumentative/discussion types (the very ones I’m best at!) so she didn’t bother practicing those. She concentrated on narrative and descriptive essays. We brushed up a few techniques she wasn’t so clear on, like paragraphs, and looked at how best to use similes, metaphors, adjectives and so on. Also how to construct your essay, how to have a beginning, middle and end. You one have one hour for each section, which isn’t long when you have to come up with a story from scratch, so we brainstormed ‘How to come up with an idea’. We used O Level papers too for more examples to try.

The middle section is ‘guided writing’ where you write an essay based on the topic of the two texts given. DD found this the most tricky to get to grips with, but practice papers and examiners reports helped us understand how to answer them.

If you’re unsure as to whether your daughter could sit for 3 hours, perhaps you could do a practice paper under exam conditions in the local library? Keep one of the past papers back so that she hasn’t seen it, use the rest to practice answering the kinds of questions that come up (use the examiners reports - they have some really useful tips about how the questions are best answered).

The other possible downside of this Spec is that it’s all unseen. You really don’t know what you’re getting, which can be nerve wracking. However, if your daughter has good English skills and ‘gets’ how to handle the questions then it can be a good choice. My daughter only practiced for a few weeks prior to the exam (she has really good English skills naturally) and came out with an A* so it was a good decision for us. I’m not sure which will be the best option for my son though who is not anywhere near as much a natural…but we have a couple of years to decide for him!<p>I hope that helps :o) J.

Another comment: Edit

We did spec A which has the anthology questions, which I think has a couple of benefits. Firstly, the student gets to study several examples of different kinds of writing, both fiction and non-fiction. They get to see what good writing looks like and learn how it’s done. This can help them learn the techniques of good writing which they can then, hopefully, incorporate into their own writing. Secondly, it means that there is one question on each paper which they can prepare for. The anthology questions are quite straightforward and if you study it thoroughly and do plenty of practice questions beforehand, then they should be able to handle these questions. The down side of this, however, is that it is a lot of work, but if you have two years, then you have plenty of time.

On paper one, section A contains a previously unseen piece of non-fiction followed by four questions. If the student has got to grips with the various writer’s techniques through study of the anthology, then this section should be quite straightforward. If your daughter struggles with producing her own descriptive, informative or persuasive writing, and finds it hard to order her thoughts on paper in a short time frame, then spec A might be preferable because there are fewer marks assigned to these skills and more marks allocated to the questions that can be prepared for. On the other hand, if she hates literature and prefers doing her own writing, then spec B would be preferable. Another difference to consider is the length of the exam. Spec A has two papers: 2 ¼ hours and 1 ½ hours. Spec B is one 3 hour paper. Which would suit your daughter best? Do you have a long distance to travel to the exam centre? Either way, if you are preparing for this over two years, you don’t have to commit to one or the other just yet, because there is a lot of overlap between the specs. You could get the textbook published by Pearson : Edexcel International GCSE English Language, work through it and see how your daughter gets on, try some past papers, and then decide. A.
From Catherine Mooney, English tutor: Edit

I agree with everything that A has said here. Spec A does give you an opportunity to prepare, it is true, and the anthology pieces are reprinted in full in the exam paper (if they are used). Spec B can be a bit of an endurance challenge with that 3 hour paper, but a higher proportion of the marks are awarded for those very straightforward comprehension-style questions.

I suggest you have a look at the exam papers themselves, together with your daughter. This will make the differences very clear. Hope this is helpful! Catherine -

Return to Main_Page

Cambridge IGCSE English Language Edit

Cambridge Assessments and International Examinations - CAIE, formerly known as CIE.

Home-ed students usually take English - First Language (0500)

This exam has a small specification change scheduled for 2019 and more significant changes from 2020. It will still be available for HE candidates for the foreseeable future, and will still be graded A*-G.

The same exam is also offered with 9-1 grading, as specification 0990. There is no difference apart from the type of grading, but you must specify which you want when making your entries.

Cambridge IGCSE English - First Language (9-1) (0990)

CAIE say: "This syllabus is graded from 9 to 1 but is otherwise the same as Cambridge IGCSE First Language English (0500). You can view papers and other resources for Cambridge IGCSE First Language English (0500); these may be useful for teaching Cambridge IGCSE (9-1) First Language English (0990). "

CAIE summary of the qualification:

"Cambridge IGCSE First Language English is designed for learners whose first language is English. Cambridge IGCSE First Language English learners develop the ability to communicate clearly, accurately and effectively in both speech and writing. They learn how to employ a wide-ranging vocabulary, use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation, and develop a personal style and an awareness of the audience being addressed. Learners are also encouraged to read widely, both for their own enjoyment and to further their awareness of the ways in which English can be used. Cambridge IGCSE First Language English also develops more general analysis and communication skills such as synthesis, inference, and the ability to order facts and present opinions effectively."
CAIE Regulated IGCSEs

CAIE also offers another First Language English option, 0627, which replaced 0527. These are OFQUAL - regulated and were developed for use in UK state schools. However, because state schools now have to use 9-1 GCSEs, these regulated IGCSEs are being phased. There is no advantage to home educators in using these specifications and, in any case, they are not normally available to private candidates because of the compulsory Speaking and Listening test.

Regulated First Language English specification, 0627, The final exam will be November 2019 and they advise users to switch to 0990 from that point.

Comments from Tutors and Home Educators Edit

A tutor and former home educator's comments on CAIE First Language English:

'Although, at first glance, this English exam might seem more difficult and complicated than either of the Edexcel options, I have found that it has aspects which make it very useful for many students.

Firstly, it offers opportunities to learn several different forms of writing, and tests reading ability too. This is a strong advantage for students who are also studying other writing-type subjects at IGCSE level or who intend to study essay subjects at A Level.

Additionally, the variety of the tasks, some shorter and some longer pieces of writing, over the two papers, actually is an advantage for some students with learning challenges. So far, none of my dyslexic students (those with some access arrangements in place) have failed to achieve at least a C grade. At first, this surprised me, but I believe that this is a result of there being a few different ways for them to demonstrate their best across the various tasks. If they find one particularly difficult, then it’s not too much of a problem.

I’ve found that candidates on the autistic spectrum also have a good chance of doing well. In fact, almost all of students with ASD whom I have taught for this exam have achieved an A*. The questions are usually clear and straightforward. Those who dislike writing about literature need not fret too much about it, as the question in the exam which deals with this is only 7-10 % of the marks.

- Dorothy Murphy'

Changes from 2019: The summary reverts to the pre-2015 style summary which is a one part question, not two parts.

Changes from 2020: One tier. Reconstructed Reading Paper. See website for details.

Resources for CAIE English (Cambridge 0500) Edit


This is the textbook designed for the 2020 syllabus and is endorsed by the exam board. Collins Cambridge IGCSE English - Cambridge IGCSE English Student Book by Julia Burchell, Mike Gould, Geraldine Dunn, Steve Eddy, Keith Brindle - This textbook matches the most recent specification and is endorsed by CAIE.

There is an accompanying workbook.

First Language English for Cambridge IGCSE by Beth Kemp et al.

Cambridge IGCSE English First Language Workbook 4th Edition by John Reynolds - There are good practice questions for all parts of the exam plus really good suggestions for tackling each section.

There is an accompanying workbook.

Marion Cox's textbook is also very good and continues seamlessly on from her Checkpoint English (KS3 books).

An accompanying workbook also exists for this.

Her teacher's Resource book is excellent: Cambridge IGCSE First Language English Teacher's Resource (Cambridge International IGCSE) by Marian Cox. However, most home educators will not find it necessary.

Revision Guides

Letts publishes a revision guide for the CAIE English Language IGCSE which is endorsed by the exam board.

How to Ace the English Language iGCSE (0500 CIE version Higher Tier): Tips, tricks, and advice to help you ace your exam in eight easy lessons by K Patrick - Dr Kat Patrick is a home-educator and member of the HE Exams community. She has written a revision guide based on her online crammer at Dreaming Spires Revision. It's available as an Ebook and print-on-demand paperback. She writes: "It's a workbook version of my online courses that I developed after examining the 0500 IGCSE and thinking home-ed students needed to know the exam from a behind-the-scenes perspective. " This Facebook group discusses all aspects of English in the home education context.

English Language and Literature IGCSE for Home Educators This Facebook group is for sharing resources and links related to IGCSEs in English Language and Literature. It is an especially helpful group for those not using a tutor or distance learning provider because it is aimed at helping parents assist their own children.

English Language GCSE Edit

Why is English Language GCSE a problem for external candidates? Edit

(summary also available here)

English GCSE no longer includes coursework, but it does have a speaking and listening assessment, called the Spoken Language Endorsement ('SLE').

Schools will not normally accept private candidates for this part of the GCSE, although private exam centres may. Further- and Higher-education establishments are generally just as happy with the regular IGCSE. In schools, the speaking assessment is considered an "easy win" for most students, but it is generally more trouble than it is worth to arrange for external candidates.

How can you take the Speaking and Listening? Can you do the GCSE without it? Edit

Thanks to Julie Barker for this detailed explanation, contributed on 3 June 2018. Julie is the head of Faregos Exam Centre, which is a specialist exam centre for home-educated candidates. Faregos is JCQ-approved and is an examination centre for all the main exam boards. Over to Julie:

There is frequent discussion about the availability of GCSE English language to private candidates- this is an explanation of the issues- This is NOT ABOUT IGCSE - where there are no problems at all and any references to speaking and listening components in those syllabuses are to entirely optional (and rarely done) choices.

The new 9-1 GCSEs have a speaking and listening component; "the SLE" -the centre organizes these and videos them; they are marked by the centre and a sample are sent to the exam boards for moderation. They no longer count for any % of the overall mark, but are reported on certificates as Distinction/Merit/Pass and Not Classified. The last grade covers those who fail the speaking and listening and those who don't turn up to sit it. (There is also the possibility of the centre applying to the exam board for an exemption for a student who could not complete it by reason of disability - that will have Exemption recorded instead of a grade for this component)

Originally Ofqual planned to make the SLE compulsory - ie not doing it would mean that the students couldn't pass the written paper;. they later relented. There was then a period where AQA said "no private candidates" so any who did sit this had to be entered as internal candidates- they have recently changed their mind.

So what is the situation?

- it is compulsory for the centre to offer it; but not for the student to sit it.

- however the exam boards make it clear that "Where a candidate misses the scheduled date/time for his/her presentation, the centre must organise an alternative session." (AQA)

and AQA say "The head of centre is required to provide a written declaration to us by a published deadline to confirm that reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that all candidates whom the centre has entered for GCSE English Language haveundertaken the Spoken Language endorsement.

Edexcel say "The SLE is a required element of the qualification. There is no separate entry code for theSLE as this is a linear qualification with a single code covering the 3 papers. Every student must have the opportunity to sit the SLE and the Head of Centre must confirm this in the declaration they submit with the recordings of the sample for SLE. If it ultimately proves impossible for a student to sit the SLE, they should be graded 'NC' and 'Not Classified' will appear on their certificate for the SLE." So - can a home educated student sit the GCSE? If the centre is willing to offer the SLE and video it alongside their own classes there is no problem. However many centres won't want the bother of inviting outside students into the classroom and will say no from the start.

The real problem lies with centres who say yes but who aren't offering the SLE; the head of centre will actually be signing the declaration when they know it isn't true. They may not get detected; however if the candidate is entered as a private candidate this year for example each entry required a separate declaration to the exam board "When private candidates are entered for internally assessed components, we (The Awarding Body) need confirmation from the Examinations Officer that teaching staff at the centre will ensure appropriate supervision, authentication and marking arrangements for all coursework, controlled assessments and non-exam assessment (NEA) components. These are Ofqual and JCQ regulations, I, ....................(Exams Officer) declare we will ensure that the appropriate supervision, authentication and marking for all coursework/controlled assessments/NEA for the candidates and courses stated below:...."

At least one centre local to us withdrew all their private candidates when they got these emails from the exam board - this was after the entry date so these students then had to pay late fees to re-enter at another centre willing to offer the SLE.

Additionally of course a missed SLE will be worded as not classified- the same working as those who failed it!

I hope this is helpful - Julie Barker

AQA GCSE English Language Edit

AQA have a helpful page of information for private candidates by subject. On GCSE English they say:

English Language (8700) - Restrictions/special conditions for private candidates Edit

Exam series - November 2018

This qualification is available to private candidates with the following condition:.

Spoken language (endorsement) (NEA) (8700/C)

The entering centre must provide private candidates the opportunity to complete this component. If the candidate has certificated in a previous series, then the result for the endorsement can be carried forward. The November exams are only available to candidates who were at least 16 years old on 31 August 2018. This qualification is not available to students at schools and colleges in Northern Ireland.

Exam series - June 2019

This qualification is available to private candidates with the following condition:.

Spoken language (endorsement) (NEA) (8700/C)

The entering centre must provide private candidates the opportunity to complete this component. If the candidate has certificated in a previous series, then the result for the endorsement can be carried forward. This qualification is not available to students at schools and colleges in Northern Ireland.

Course Providers and Other Resources Edit

This section is intended for recommendations of tutors or course providers who have been recommended by home-educating families, and who have experience of teaching home-educated students. Please keep it brief! Excessively long entries will be edited down.

Seneca Learning - Seneca Learning provides free, exam-board specific resources for English Literature and Language GCSE. It's a learning platform (revision, and you can set work through it) that uses neuroscience to make students learn 2x faster. Covers most of the more popular texts.

Catherine Mooney Tutoring - English Language and English Literature correspondence course by a home-educating parent, for CIE or Edexcel boards. Also offers correspondence courses in essay writing for ages 8 and up.

Dreaming Spires English tutor Dr Kat Patrick is a home-ed parent and also an examiner for CIE board's IGCSE English course. She runs online English Literature courses on a variety of themes, some historical, some aiming towards qualifications, and has a Facebook page for her students. See also in "Textbooks" above for her revision guide.

Dorothy Murphy Tutoring - a home-ed parent and qualified and experienced English teacher and former examiner for several boards, Dorothy has been running groups for home educated teens for IGCSE Language and Literature English in Oxon and Bucks for many years. She also offers a distance marking service.

"Dorothy is an excellent teacher who knows how to get the best from her students. Her classes are well-planned and engaging and she provides great support to her students. I have no hesitation in recommending her lessons." -  Bernadette (2017)

Little Arthur - Long established course provider for a range of subjects

The following advert for an English tutor offering distance learning has been added to the wiki. However, we do not at present have any recommendations from home-educating families for this tutor, so please do not take his inclusion here as an endorsement:

Richard Marriott English Tutor - English and English Literature Tuition KS3, GCSE and A level. Head of Department and Examiner. References available from home-educating families. Please contact Richard on Richard on 07812 742 164 or 01435 661321 or email: for details of background and experience both in Home Ed and major independent schools.

I offer: free trial session; expert knowledge and skills; help with coursework; examination revision; sample answers to show how it’s done; homework set and marked weekly; weekly reports emailed to parents and tutees to help you track progress.

'Richard was very quick to respond to our search.We found him both welcoming and very engaging. He completely understood the help and needs that we are looking for to help tutor our son. After our initial meeting,as we were leaving,my son turned to me and said, he is REALLY good. That was my answer to finding the perfect tutor,no need to look any further.' - Melanie

Return to Main_Page