Oliver James: Home-grown talent

When I first started this series about Educashun I had a whine on my two-year-old daughter's behalf regarding the vivacity-sapping 15,000 hours she will spend at school. This inspired about 20 readers to point out that she could be spared the pain because there is no legal obligation to send her. You can educate them at home.

'Humph,' thought I. 'Ho Humph,' thought my wife as we contemplated a life given over to teaching amo, amas, amat (and the urge to reintroduce corporal punishment which would doubtless result). Nonetheless, I followed the directions of my readers through the thickets of internet foliage to home-education.org.uk.

It seems that about 150,000 British children are taught at home and that international studies find they outperform the conventionally educated, especially children from low-income families. They may learn the three Rs a bit later than average, but there is no long-term deficit. The studies also suggest they finish up emotionally maturer and better socialised. Along the way, they save the government between £500m and £850m a year in terms of teaching costs, school buildings and so on.

Such material considerations were secondary in the case made by readers. Gill Wilson claimed that not only had her two sons, now 15 and 18, avoided the stress of school, they are 'extremely well balanced, motivated and independent-minded', the older one now at university.

According to Gill, such outcomes are commonplace. 'I've seen a great many home-educated children over the years, and almost without exception they have benefited greatly from the experience. Even if it is only for a few years at the beginning and then they go to school, this gives them a good start. I've seen friends' children lose what I can only describe as their "sparkle" a short while after beginning school at some unbelievably early age.'

OK, Gill, even if I accept this account, it must have been a hell of a shag doing it? 'We may have lacked money over the years, but we have had the pleasure of seeing our sons grow up, and I wouldn't swap that for anything.' Hers was not a lone voice in claiming this.

Kate Dale informed me that 'instead of trying to shape him into the "right" kind of child for school, being told to sit still, to ask when he wants to talk or have fun, I can continue to let him be himself and to soak up the world and all its fascinations, and to be delighted with learning. Since making the decision, our lives are lighter, more fun, more purposeful.' Julia Cefelas was equally enthusiastic about the experience from the parents' standpoint, summarising it as 'great fun, creative, life enhancing, hard work, a huge privilege'.

Tony Blair probably assumes that home educators are a bunch of muesli-chewing degenerates. Since some of my best friends do it, I know that's false; whether we shall join their ranks remains to be seen, but it does seem a genuine alternative to the status quo.

oliver.james@observer.co.uk

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.