Art and Music GCSEs

My daughter thinks she may wish to do Art in future. Art is a tricky subject to do as home educators here because there are a lot of controlled assessments involved and the final exam is a 2-day 10-hours-total affair – this means it is far more difficult to find colleges that are willing to take us on and is an impossibility for many. I know Blackheath Conservatoire in south London do a 2 year GCSE Art course for those who cannot do GCSE Art at school or are home educated. It doesn’t come that cheap though, at £396 per term, and there are 3 terms per year. I suppose it is okay for us financially if my children weren’t doing so many music lessons privately, but they love music and don’t wish to give that one up. And I’d hate to make them give it up. Our family are music lovers and love jamming and playing.

There is an alternative – the Arts Awards. If you do a Bronze level, it is a similar standard to an Art GCSE but not equivalent. At Gold level, which is a similar standard to an Art A Level but not equivalent, it would only be worth 35 UCAS points whereas an Art A Level with even an E grade would be still worth more – at 40 UCAS points. An Art A Level at an A* grade would be worth 140 points. UCAS points is a system in the UK used to differentiate between students’ abilities and they are often used for entry into UK universities. Universities list on their entry criteria the minimum amount of UCAS points applicants to their courses should possess. And don’t get me wrong. Arts Awards are not bad. They are just different. They are also fun to do, and give a good introduction to some different ways of appreciating and making art. My kids are currently all working on theirs’. I am just aware that they cannot be used to make up a good portion of UCAS points, and neither are they as recognised as equivalent to GCSEs or BTECs.

Music GCSE is also a tricky one to do as home educators for the same reason as the Art GCSE, but once again it can be done at Blackheath Conservatoire in south London with the £396 per term course fee. It is only a 1 year course though, so pretty doable I think. We may decide to do that if she is stuck choosing her GCSE subjects. It is handy for making up one GCSE grade, and for my kids, it would be a breeze, as I heard it is about a Grade 3 Music equivalent standard, whereas mine would have been past that grade by then. And anyway you don’t need Music GCSE or Music A Level to pursue Music courses at uni/College anyway. Most courses don’t ask for those. If you wanted to do Music A Level at sixth form though, they might require that the applicant has done GCSE Music. That is something to keep in mind. But in Music degree courses, they do tend to prefer those who have achieved a Grade 5 in at least one musical instrument. Most Music degree entry criteria I’ve seen don’t even mention requiring Music GCSE or Music A Level. I think having a Music GCSE or Music A Level are good for making up your total GCSE and A level grades, especially if the child finds this subject fun, but by no means stress out about not being able to gain these as home educators. Seriously, you’d probably be better off working towards your musical instrument exam grades from ABRSM or Trinity. They are worth more if Music is what you want to do in higher education.

As home educators trying to home ed on a tight budget and still be able to help our children achieve their goals, we have of course thought about my eldest going to a local high school or college to do her Art and Music GCSE qualifications instead. It would get the job done and at minimal cost – no course fees for under 19s. But I will leave the options open to her. I was perusing the Year 9 options booklets in my local schools and was rather surprised (not in a nice way) that students were asked to choose a minimum of 9 GCSE subjects to take as exams when they are 16. I mean, seriously? 9? How much free time would that leave them? And so much pressure…

As my daughter prefers art, music and languages to other subjects, although she is fine dealing with academic work and copes well with exams, she might be better off not being in the school system and being pressured to do so many subjects. I think she would do fine with 5 or 6 subjects and actually do pretty well at them. But stretch that to 9 subjects and the quality of her work may suffer due to a simple lack of time. She is fine with school work but she isn’t like one of those kids who can still get 10 A* in 10 GCSE subjects! I remember showing her that Year 9 options booklet from a local high school. She took a long time to browse through it. Indeed it felt a bit like picking sweets from a candy shop, as she could pick the things she likes doing and not pick the stuff she didn’t. Of course there were the non-optional “Core” subjects of English, Maths, Science, PE, Religious Ed and Citizenship but she is okay with those.. not favourites though. But since they are “Core” subjects, teachers will put more emphasis into them and passing them, leaving her with less time to devote to those subjects she prefers. She understood all that very well and prefers to home ed or go to college instead.

Thankfully our local college have said they would let her go in at 14 to start English and Maths GCSE plus a vocational subject – Music and Art are both considered vocational too, as they have vocational courses for those. Only niggle is she cannot pick both, but never mind. We’re looking at her going off to college in about a year and a quarter, to study those. We would also be doing 3 GCSEs at home meanwhile. We’ll try to do it with Briteschool if possible, but owing to the time restrictions imposed on regular college attendance, that may not be possible after all, so we may have to go with Oxford Homeschooling packages after all. I just want to keep her options as open as possible in case she decides Art is not for her in future, and most higher education institutions in the UK these days ask for a minimum of 5 GCSEs for entry into courses that are of a higher level than GCSEs. I’d prefer not to try my luck and bank on her being one of the rare few home educated children who got into universities without meeting the basic entry requirements. Yes of course she could always go into Unis without meeting basic entry requirements if she was over the age of 21, as a mature student with life and work experience, but I think even on a jobseeking level these days, not having at the very least English and Maths GCSEs would be very disadvantageous. And having 5 of them will give the child even more options to pursue.

Also – and this is a very minor thing – the Art GCSE done in schools, although equivalent to the Art Level 2 at college, has a somewhat different syllabus to the other. Comparing both syllabi, the Art GCSE leans more to Fine Arts, but the Art Level 2 in college leans a lot more to the Design industry. Now I know Fine Art and Design are pretty different from each other despite the fact that both require some artistic talent and basic art skills like drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. I did the Art O level in school back in the day and went to college to do an Art diploma and the course contents are so different. I really preferred the sort of no-limits freedom of self-expression that Fine Art provided me. Design however, was all too businesslike for me. All about satisfying clients (often companies) and their requirements. So the client may not like your work. You go home and redo it to their liking, ad nauseam, until they are satisfied. I just didn’t like that aspect of the work, and well, that pretty much was the biggest indicator that I was not cut out for Design. Back then we didn’t have the internet. I didn’t have family members who were there to listen to my concerns, my wishes, etc. Although one of my aunts was an accomplished fashion designer and lecturer at a local Art college, I hardly ever saw her. I wish I did, now on hindsight. I wish I got to go and shadow her at work for a week or something, to learn what Design was about – okay she was Fashion Design so not exactly like Graphic Design, which was what I chose to study in College eventually – but the principle is the same to me.



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