GCSE & other courses for non-school teens at Central College, Nottingham

Update late 2017: please note that this writeup is about the 2016-2017 academic year, so OUTDATED by now – not least because Central College has since merged with New College Nottingham to form Nottingham College, and the GCSE courses are now at Stoney Street in the city centre, not in Beeston. However, the overall structure is likely to be similar, so if you’re looking into exams & courses for non-school teens, it might still be useful in helping you get your bearings.


This write-up is about free (government-funded) courses available to “electively home educated” teens at Central College, Nottingham. It’s based on an info event which was held at the college on Thursday 5 May 2016, plus some follow-up conversations.

Thanks to Jo Edgerton, Choices Team Leader at Central College, who was immensely helpful in explaining the practicalities of all this and decoding the jargon!

Overview by school “Year”

Central welcomes home ed teens from Year 9: that is, age 13+.

This translates as: To start in autumn 2016, you’d have to have been born before 1 September 2003.

And if you want to start one of the GCSE courses in autumn 2016, you’d normally1 have to have been born before 1 September 2002.

(Likewise, the people starting in autumn 2017 would’ve been born before 1 September 2004, or 2003 for the GCSEs.)

Here’s a summary of what’s available for 2016-2017:

Age group Age at start Age at end Current options at Central For autumn 2016 start, birth date before
Year 9 13 14 Pre-GCSE Programme

In exceptional cases, GCSEs1

1 Sept 2003
Year 10 14 15
  • Pre-GCSE

  • GCSEs

  • Art & Design

  • Possibly an ICT course, only if enough people interested

  • For those with learning difficulties/ disabilities, “Horizons”.

1 Sept 2002
Year 11 15 16
  • Everything that the Year 10s can do.

  • Various other vocational courses, along with non-home-ed students from older years. These are known as “infill placements”.

1 Sept 2001

Each of these courses is one year long – or, really, about 9 months, from September to June. How many days a week varies depending on the course(s).

Once you reach “Year 12“, there’s a huge amount available, and nothing to stop you continuing on at the college then, or indeed at another college! But this explanation will focus on ages 13 to 16, as that’s when these options will be especially useful to home ed families.

Geography & travel

Central College has multiple sites across Nottingham.

View college sites on OpenStreetMap. (If you’re on a computer with a mouse and can do “hovering”, hovering over each pin shows which subjects take place there. Or see static screenshot version further down this page.)

The home ed GCSE and pre-GCSE courses are all at the Beeston centre, which has a tram stop and orange/Indigo bus stop outside its front door. (Shown slightly brighter pink on OpenStreetMap page.)

Vocational courses may be at Clifton, Highfields, Beeston, or in the city centre, depending on the subject – list of subjects and locations are summarised below.

Central’s page with info on public transport to each of the sites.

Where we fit in to the college

Most of the college’s 4,500 students are between 16 and 19. A small proportion, only about 230 students in total, is younger than 16. Older adults are also welcome.

Within the college, the “Choices” team runs both the home ed courses and some other ones. (A school might pay for a young person to come to the college instead of to school.)

As the college overall is “a post-16 environment”, the Choices team people have thought a lot about what adjustments to make for supporting and including under-16s. For example, if a young person doesn’t arrive at their class, the parent gets a phone call. There’s a pre-course questionnaire to help identify special educational needs and any particular social needs.

There’s a large team of pastoral support people (for all students, not only the younger ones). A key person for this side of things is Vicki Stockdale, Behaviour and Safeguarding Manager.

The home ed courses are now going into their third year. In the academic year that’s recently completed, 50-odd home ed children age 13 to 16 were studying there.

Home ed teens can take part either in the courses specifically set up for them, or, for Year 11, in selected other courses around the college.

In principle, you can mix and match the different bits available to your age group, although not every combination will work. The timetables are organised centrally by the college, not by the “Choices” team.

You can take part in any of these courses and still retain your status as electively home educated – as you’re not registered with a school.

Levels

You’ll hear talk of “Levels”, so here’s a handy guide.

Level Roughly equivalent to…
Level 3 ‘A’ level, though more practical, not as academic.
Level 2 A* to C old-style GCSEs, 9 to 5-or-4 (approx) new-style GCSEs.*
Level 1 D to G old-style GCSEs, 3-or-4 to 1 new-style GCSEs.
Entry Level 3  
Entry Level 2  
Entry Level 1  

* Apparently the “old” GCSE ratings are being abolished soon, and there’s going to be a new scale of 1 to 9, where 9 is best. There are more divisions in grades in the new system, and new-style 9 is intended to be even better than old A star.

To start a course at Central, except for the Horizons ones, you’d need to be at least at Entry Level 3 or above, in both Maths and English, as shown by the initial assessment. Or more, depending on which course you wanted to do.

Year 9s who aren’t yet at that level would be advised to come back a year later.

Year 10s or Year 11s who aren’t yet at that level could access the Horizons “LLDD provision”, where LLDD stands for “Learners with Learning Difficulties & Disabilities”.

Assessments, discussions, decisions

When you start, the decision of which course(s) to start on would be made by the young person, the parents/carers and the college, together.

The process goes like this:

  1. You put in an application form.

    Choices programme page, inc link to application form.

  2. The Admissions team put your details into their system and send you a letter. This letter is an invitation something like “Come and do your assessment at this time and date and place”.

  3. Everyone does two online assessments at a computer at the college, one for English and one for Maths.

    There’s no time limit; you work at your own pace. You can choose whether to do English or Maths first. Most people complete both within one to two hours.

    The type of assessment is referred to as “Functional Skills”. The questions are meant to be similar to something you might encounter in real life: for example, how much it would cost to buy your tickets for a day out, or whether a sentence makes sense. Usually it’s easy questions to start with, then getting harder as you go through it.

    For the maths, you might use the calculator that’s on the computer. You don’t need to bring anything.

    (College policy is that everyone takes the English and Maths assessments when starting a new course, whether or not they’ve got existing qualifications – even if they’ve already been at the college a previous year.)

    You get your results on the day, and a chance to discuss your next steps with a member of staff from the Choices team.

  4. Within a couple of weeks, you get another letter. In most cases, this will be to invite you for an interview.

    (For Year 9s who aren’t yet at Entry Level 3, it would only be to say “Please come back next year”.)

  5. At the interview, the young person, the parent(s) and the college staff discuss which course(s) will suit them best, taking into account…

    • Level of your English and Maths skills.

    • Age, because of age limits for some of the courses.

    • Social maturity – if a course would involve being put in a group with people older than you.

    • General readiness for the new learning environment, e.g. study skills / habits / experience.

      For example, some people could jump straight into GCSEs in terms of their age and academic level, but prefer to spend a year doing pre-GCSE to get settled into the college routine.

    • Where you’d like to be headed in future. For example, if you want to continue to ‘A’ levels in future, you’re likely to need five GCSEs at grade C or above, including your future-‘A’-level subjects.

    • Funding rules from the Government.

      A key factor is that the Government’s very keen for everyone to get English and Maths qualifications. The funding rule in that area is: If you do more than 150 hours at the college over the year, your programme of study at the college has to include English and Maths, unless you already have the GCSE certificate at C or above.

      In practice, that means you can do one GCSE at a time without going over the 150 hours. Two GCSEs, or one and something else, and the rule kicks in.

    • Timetabling – as some combinations could clash.

    • Available places. At Central, English and Maths GCSE have a maximum class size of 20. For the other GCSEs, and the pre-GCSE course, it’s 15.

  6. If you’re doing one of the vocational courses, you might also have another meeting, this time with someone leading that particular area, to decide which level class you’d start in.

  7. [I’m not sure where the “pre course questionnaire” comes in this process – to be confirmed!]

As some options will be irrelevant to some people purely because of age, let’s take it year by year…

Year 9 options

If you’re Year 9 age, you have one main option: the Pre-GCSE Programme, described in the next section. This takes three days a week.

In exceptional cases, it might be possible for a Year 9 student to instead start GCSEs alongside the older ones. The Choices team would only consider this if (a) the young person were already at Level 2 in both Maths and English Functional Skills, and (b) they were socially ready to join the older classes.

Pre-GCSE Programme

From the leaflet (PDF):

This one year programme is for students in Year 9‑11 and will provide students with the skills that they need to progress on to a GCSE or vocational full time programme.

  • Level 1 & 2 Functional Skills in English and maths

  • BTEC Level 1 Certificate in Applied Science

  • Tutorial Programme that includes: Personal and Social Development and Employability and Progression skills

For this one, you can’t pick and choose among the different bits. It’s either do the whole lot, all three days a week, or don’t do it.

For example, in the 2016 to 2017 year, the draft timetable said Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, starting at 9am and finishing at 2.30pm, or 3.30pm on Thursdays.

Although everyone’s in the same class, they’re not necessarily doing exactly the same activities. A typical pathway would be to do Level 1 Functional Skills over the first half of the year, then Level 2 over the second half. But if, say, it took you all year to do Level 1, or if you were better at maths than English or vice-versa, that’s fine too.

Year 10 options

In Year 10, you can choose from:

  • The Pre-GCSE Programme described above.

  • GCSE courses.

  • BTEC Level 1 Certificate in Art and Design.

  • Possibly an ICT qualification, if there’s enough take-up.

  • In future years, possibly an “Automotive” programme. The web page for this is still up at the time of writing, but apparently there hasn’t been enough interest to run it in 2016-2017.

GCSEs

The current GCSE options are:

  • GCSE English

  • GCSE Double Science

  • GCSE Maths

  • GCSE Psychology

  • GCSE History

Over the year, each GCSE equates to approximately three hours a week in college. Double science is six hours and gives you two GCSEs at the end.

Typically, each subject would be scheduled as a three-hour chunk with a break in the middle, one morning or one afternoon a week. (There are pros and cons to this scheduling: they’re aware that students aren’t always keen on the long session, but the up side is it’s then easier to schedule the rest of the typical non-schooler’s busy week.)

GCSE exams for “external candidates”

At the moment, the five subjects listed above are the only GCSEs on offer. The main limitation to offering more different ones would be having staff to deliver the courses, as most of Central’s provision isn’t GCSEs. It’s not very likely to expand in the near future.

However, the college does also offer a paid service for “external candidates”, i.e. people who’ve done the learning elsewhere and want somewhere to take an exam.

That’s known as the “Exam only service“.

Art & design half-day

New in September 2016 for Years 9 & 10 is the Art & Design course for home educated students. It’s a BTEC Level 1 Certificate in Art and Design.

You can do this course by itself. It would be one half-day a week, at the Clifton site. Or you can do it together with another course, as long as the combination meets the Government’s funding rules and doesn’t clash in the timetable.

Year 11 options

In Year 11, you can choose from:

  • Any of the things from Years 9 and 10 described above, if they’re at the right level to suit you, and/or

  • Joining in with older students on a selection of “intensive vocational learning” courses across the college.

The jargon word for becoming part of the older ones’ courses is “infill“. So that option is known as the “Year 11 Infill Programme”.

Year 11 Infill Programme

Here are the “Infill” options:

Subject Where?
Art & Design Clifton
Automotive London Road
Business & IT Maid Marian Way
Care & Early Years Maid Marian Way
Construction Beeston
Engineering Highfields
Photography Maid Marian Way
Science Maid Marian Way
Sport Clifton
Travel & Tourism Maid Marian Way

Map showing central college sites in Beeston, Stapleford, Clifton, Highfields and the city centre. Based on a screen shot from OpenStreetMap, as linked elsewhere in article.

(Click on map to see it full-size. Or to zoom in for local details, use original map from which this screenshot was taken.)

Each of these courses would be about two-and-a-half to three days per week.

They can run alongside GCSEs and/or half-day add-ons, if the timetables don’t clash.

The qualification could be e.g. BTEC, City & Guilds, CACHE, IMIAL or another industry specialist one, depending on the course you’re doing. For more about each specific course, click through from the list at Central’s page for people age 14 to 16.

These courses are divided by “levels” (as discussed above), where Level 2 is meant to be roughly equivalent to GCSE A* to C, and Level 3 is roughly equivalent to ‘A’ level.

Home ed students could potentially do Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3. Which level you started at would depend on a combination of…

  • English & Maths levels from your initial assessment.

  • Other qualifications you’d already done.

  • Maybe a portfolio, e.g. if the course were art or photography and you already had work to show.

  • Discussion with the course leaders.

  • Whether you’re 16 yet, for some Level 2 and Level 3 courses. (Level 1 would be available to all Year 11s.) There are various reasons why the organisation running a qualification – known as the “awarding body” – might set a minimum age for Levels 2 or 3. The Choices team have sometimes been able to get exceptions where a 15-year-old could participate, by talking to the awarding body for that particular course – depending partly on why the limit was there in the first place.2

Even within the same level, on these vocational courses there can be several alternative classes running at different times of the week. So if you apply to these ones together with a friend, you could find yourself in different classes. But if you were at the same level, you could put in a request to be in the same class – no guarantees.

Finding out more

If your question isn’t answered here…

  • You could ring the Choices team on 0115 884 2278.

  • You could email them: centralchoices @ centralnottingham . ac . uk (without the spaces).

  • You could comment here (anonymously if you like) and we’ll invite the college people to comment back. This would be especially useful if you think other people might be wondering the same thing.

  • It’s also possible we’ll schedule another meeting.

Possible meet-and-chat

Brendan from the college kindly said that if there were enough of us – say 5 or 6 families – he or one of the team would be willing to travel to us, and do another little presentation and chat and answer our questions.

Subject to weather, this could be in a park, e.g. Wollaton or Highfields, so that children not very interested in the grownups’ chat can play. In that case, we would probably schedule a fall-back date in case of rain.

This possible meet-and-chat could also be a nice opportunity for some of the potential future-year-classmates to say hello.

If we do a meetup like that, it’ll be open to all current and potential home edders, and mentioned again on the blog. However, to find out whether enough people would be interested, please comment here (anonymously if you like, but including an email address) if you’d like to be invited.


Footnotes

1. Starting GCSEs in Year 9: As discussed later on in the explanation, a young person who’d already got far enough both academically and socially could possibly start GCSEs in Year 9, but this would be exceptional.

2. Minimum age 16 for some Level 2 & Level 3 courses: These age limits exist for varying reasons.

  • When it’s primarily because the government wants to discourage specialising at an early age, this likely wouldn’t apply to non-school students.

  • If it’s because of the content of the course, this would be a case by case basis, possibly depending partly on where the young person’s 16th birthday falls in the academic year.

  • If it’s because of health and safety, it’s unlikely to be varied.


Quick links to sections
GCSE & other courses for non-school teens at Central College, Nottingham
Overview by school “Year”
Geography & travel
Where we fit in to the college
Levels
Assessments, discussions, decisions
Year 9 options
Pre-GCSE Programme
Year 10 options
GCSEs
GCSE exams for “external candidates”
Art & design half-day
Year 11 options
Year 11 Infill Programme
Finding out more
Possible meet-and-chat


Note on anonymity when commenting:

If you put your email address in the “email” bit of a comment box here, it won’t be published. But blog admin people can see it, and (in this case) use it to make sure you know about the meetup.

The name you fill in would normally be shown, so if you don’t want your real name to be visible either, just write “Anonymous for this” in the “name” box, or use a made-up online name.

(All comments are pre-moderated to avoid spam, so don’t be surprised if your comment doesn’t pop straight up.)