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A class of about 20,000

Education Otherwise, a self help group of families involved in home education, began life in a farmhouse in Swindon in 1977.

Since then the number of parents teaching their own children has grown from a handful to several thousand. Because of the informal nature of home education (only children who have been to school and are subsequently removed have to be registered with their LEA), no one knows exactly how many children are taught at home.

Dr Roland Meighan, a founder member of Education Otherwise and special professor of education at Nottingham University, who has researched home education for the past 20 years, puts the number at about 20,000. A former teacher, he found his own schooling "bewildering. Other people were saying 'this is a good experience'. I felt it insulted my intelligence."

He left school at 16 and didn't take his A-levels until his mid-20s: "I didn't bother with a course, I just got the books and did them." His son James, now 25, had a conventional schooling but with the proviso that he could drop out and be taught of home if he wished. "His verdict was that his education was a complete wreck but with bits of treasure in it."

Dr Meighan's maverick theories strike at the heart of conventional dogma. School used to be a good way of disseminating ideas and information but, he argues, today's information-rich society has rendered "tell and test" methods redundant.

"Mass compulsory schooling is totally obsolete. School is a bullying institution. You are bullied into doing a curriculum that some bunch of adults have decided you should do. It produces a bunch of people who want to boss people around, another group who learn to obey orders and have no critical faculties left, and a third group who are turned off by the whole thing and decide to create trouble in other ways."

Home schooling, by contrast, encourages self-confidence, self-expression and independence. It can also get results, says Dr Meighan. Research conducted in America, where home schooling is more widespread, suggests that on average, home-schooled children are a year-and-a-half ahead of their conventionally educated peers.

Education Otherwise, PO Box 7420, London N9 9SG

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