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Info Guide: Homeschooling Pathways (Academic Routes)

Beyond primary level education, children typically engage in more rigorous studies, whether they are homeschooling or enrolled in schools. The intent is to nurture our young into well-adjusted adults who possess the necessary skills to thrive and engage in purposeful work to contribute to society. This article offers parents and students guidance in carving out academic pathways that are best suited for them in the post-primary education years.

For both currently homeschooling families and those who have only recently embarked on it, the onset of the secondary education years may bring about feelings of excitement and anxiety at the same time. As parents, we always hope to provide the safe space and supportive care that our young need to develop a healthy sense of fulfilment in their pursuits and visions of success. The path towards achieving that goal, however, may not always be apparent in the beginning.


Embracing Multiple Pathways

Secondary level homeschoolers should rejoice in the multiple pathways available to them at this stage. Local parents, especially, may be surprised to learn this because most mainstream secondary schools abide by the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Examinations (GCE) system. Homeschoolers can continue to benefit from diverse learning modes as they pursue different qualifications, which are also attainable at varying times and stages of their lives.

There are benefits of ascertaining with our children at the onset of what these paths would be. Having clarity allows us to make strategic decisions together, which could help save time and money. However, we must not be held hostage to these early decisions – maintaining our course despite changing conditions and variables.

Forming a decision with our children on the best possible educational pathway necessitates a balancing of nurturing their current strengths and passions, as well as a certain degree of projection into their future pursuits.

Classic Academic Routes

Conventionally, students work towards GCE N-Level, O-Level, and/or A-Level qualifications for admission into post-secondary institutions like the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), Polytechnics, Junior Colleges and possibly, local universities.

Homeschoolers in Singapore who aim to qualify for those institutions tend to pursue those qualifications as private candidates – following a classic route albeit at their own pace. There are several advantages of doing so, such as having the ability to take the examinations in two sittings in different years without having to be assigned to either the Express or Normal streams, as well as having access to the growing services by fellow and former homeschooling parents offering customised classes and in highly specialised subject areas.

Before homeschoolers dive into this route, however, they can consider at least two other viable models. We loosely refer to them as the British (UK) and American (US) models.

Figure 1. Making decisions for our child’s education can be difficult if we are unable to visualise the big picture. This infographic presents the various routes that one may pursue. Image credit: Kalsum Harun and Grace Tan from Homeschool Singapore

The British (UK) Model

The UK model of certification is somewhat familiar to most Singaporeans. Besides the GCE O-Level and A-Levels, the secondary and post-secondary blocks are served by the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and International A-Level qualifications. Despite some resemblance to the local system, it is valuable to note the specific implications of enrolling under the different examination boards before opting for any particular one. The differences in syllabus between GCE and IGCSE examinations, for example, though minor, make a significant difference in the learning process of our children.

Homeschoolers in Singapore typically register with the following examination boards through British Council Singapore.

  • Cambridge Assessment International Education

  • Pearson Edexcel
  • International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE)

    IGCSE subjects offered for examinations are more extensive than the local system, making it advantageous to students who are more inclined towards novel subjects. Students have more flexibility in structuring their exam sittings compared to the local system. For example, besides allowing students to take their exams in two sittings within the same year, retakes of examination papers are not indicated in their certificates. There is also no requirement for Science practical examinations, and depending on the child, this can be an advantage.

    Opting to sit for IGCSE papers, however, is more costly than the local O-level exams. On the bright side, parents can access free online resources for teaching. Because of this, parents can potentially guide their children themselves instead of relying on external classes. 

    International A-Level Qualification

    The International A-Level route has similar advantages. In addition to offering a more extensive choice of subjects, these subjects may also include some courses that students have set their sights on studying at the university level. These students have the advantage of scaffolding their learning in their preferred fields, gaining a headstart in the more elementary aspects of the subject, and thus, allowing them to foray into more advanced areas earlier than their peers. In addition, there is no requirement for students to undertake the Project Work module, unlike students in Junior Colleges sitting for the local A-Level exams.

    The American (US) Model

    The American (US) model offers a very different approach to certification. You may have noticed how, in American movies, high school students earn credits for school subjects throughout the year. Their high school diplomas are issued based on their cumulative work grades instead of high-stakes examinations.

    As a reference, a high school diploma (conferred at Grade 12) is equivalent to an A-Level qualification, and locally, Grade 10 is equivalent to an O-Level qualification. Homeschoolers in Singapore work towards their high school diploma in two main ways.

    Boxed Curriculum and Online Schools

    While all curriculum providers have unique selling points, none can provide for everything a child needs. The family still has to supplement with other activities and materials. Some families find this one of the most convenient forms of homeschooling, especially if their children can follow the curriculum. However, other students may deem this approach too rigid and/or perceive that the learning approach is incompatible with their personalities.

    Parents looking for a boxed curriculum or prescriptive programs that provide structured educational pathways should talk to curriculum vendors. These enquiries should inform parents on the strengths of the curricula and whether its educational vision is compatible with the family. This process will give parents a mental map to work with.

    High School Diploma via Accreditation Bodies

    In the United States, parent-issued high school transcripts are common among families wanting to allow their children to explore a  range of subjects and experience varied learning techniques and assessment modes. To strengthen their children’s chances for enrollment into higher academic institutions, parents help their children build their portfolios through internships, special awards, and so on.

    For peace of mind over fulfilling requirements, local parents engage accreditation bodies to issue the diploma based on their academic records. Parents may consult these bodies at the start of their journeys to understand the recognition framework to formulate their children’s curriculum.

    Examples of high school accreditation bodies are as follow:

  • North Atlantic Regional High School

  • Oak Meadow

  • ASDAN is recommended by the community to be suitable for those with special education needs
    Image Credit: ilartsy on Unsplash

    Advanced Placement (AP) Examinations

    The AP examinations in the US model are similar to the A-Level examinations in the UK model. As they are based on the students’ choice of specialisation in particular subjects, AP exams are highly content-based. Since parents cannot access the exam curricula, students typically enrol in AP preparatory schools. Students may begin their preparation for AP subjects at any point that they are ready.
    Because APs are equivalent to first-year college standards, some universities accord incoming students credits for the relevant AP subjects the students had studied. This would exempt them from having to take on particular modules as part of their graduation requirement. Policies for exemption vary from university to university and the courses the students are pursuing.

    American College Test (ACT) with Writing

    The American College Test (ACT) is a standardised test taken for admission to universities. It is accepted by all four-year colleges and universities in the United States as well as more than 225 universities outside of the US. The ACT consists of five sections, which include the Writing Test. Depending on the local university that the child is applying to, they may need to submit their scores for ACT with Writing along with scores for AP subjects.

    Weighing Out Your Options

    Homeschoolers in Singapore have successfully gained entry into tertiary institutions based on either of these alternative models to the local GCE system. Nonetheless, an objective evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of each model is needed when weighing one’s options for their child.

    One particular point must be stressed. While homeschoolers have gained entry into post-secondary institutions via these alternative educational models, they also face one structural disadvantage. Such students cannot apply via the Joint Admission Exercise (JAE) with the rest of their cohort. Their applications are processed via the Direct Admissions Exercise (DAE) after the spaces have been allocated via the JAE. This considerably limits their chances of admission to popular courses.

    Figure 2. Image credit: Kalsum Harun and Grace Tan from Homeschool Singapore
    Figure 3. Image credit: Kalsum Harun and Grace Tan from Homeschool Singapore

    Working Backwards

    The mantra of “starting with the end in mind” often rings true in planning our children’s homeschooling journey beyond their primary education years. Making decisions for our child’s education can be difficult if we are unable to visualise the big picture. The infographics in this article offer an overview of what our children’s educational journey may look like, from when they begin to sit for board exams until when they are ready to enter tertiary institutions. We hope to offer some clarity as to the decisions to be made at various crossroads. 

    Specific conditions and requirements may however change over time. It is always pertinent to refer to official guidelines on admission exercises, as well as the respective websites of the relevant institutions and exam boards for specific minimum entry requirements as they are subject to changes. We list some links to local institutions below.

    Consultation on Homeschooling

    For personal consultations on your child’s schooling options and all homeschooling matters in Singapore, reach out to our consultation team at homeschoolconsultation.com.

    Happy Homeschooling!

    This article was prepared in collaboration with homeschoolconsultation.com. Parts of the content of this article was presented at a public webinar, “Choosing the Right School for your ADHD Child” organised by Unlocking ADHD on 14 November 2021. For any doubt, please refer to this article published by Homeschool Singapore as the most updated version.

    Help build our community knowledge! Reach out to editor@homeschoolsingapore.sg to highlight any errors and updates.

    Featured Image Credit: Kalsum Harun and Grace Tan from Homeschool Singapore.

    Unless stated, opinions expressed in this article do not represent the views of Homeschool Singapore.