Amazing as it seems to those who can't wait to offload their kids in the morning, growing numbers of parents are educating them at home. With the resources of the internet it is easy to replicate classroom work at home, but harder to provide the teamwork and playground games, the fallings-out and makings-up, that are as essential to a child's growth as mental maths and basic literacy.
Look west and you will find a primary school in Devon that takes one child in for two days a week, and another for three, under an agreement with their parents that the rest of the children's education will be at home. The head's view is that half a week in school is better than none, and that it works if everyone co-operates.
In all, a few hundred children are educated in this country under similar arrangements – the 1996 Education Act allows schools to give children absence "with leave". But anyone who wants to approach their local school about this must bear in mind what they are asking. Over-stretched teachers have to plan and monitor their term's work closely these days, and it will be a headache for them to keep track of their part-time pupils' progress. Meetings with parents, photo-copying assignments and checking portfolios of work done at home are all extra tasks that they may not greet with cries of joy. For this reason alone, heads and governing bodies may be reluctant to even think about it.
Any parent who wants to go down this road needs to find out more from home-schooling organisations such as Education Otherwise. If a school shows itself willing, parents must to do everything they can to make sure it works. If a school isn't interested – well, home-educators have deluged Quandary with lyrical descriptions of the many ways in which their children mix (Girl Guides, orchestras, home-schooling weekends), and all are adamant that their children enjoy a better lifestyle than their poor, suffering peers in school. It sounds so wonderful, it's surprising that we don't all do it. Maybe school is more for parents' benefit than for children's.
All the local children where we live go to school, but this has not prevented our seven-year-old daughter from playing with them. She goes to the youth club, to summer play schemes and on trips, and is not treated any differently because of being home educated. Most of her friends are older, because her own age group seems "babyish" to her. If anything, westruggle to keep pace with her social calendar!
Laura Jamieson, Shetland
If you are worried about your son's social life, take him out of school immediately. When else in your life do you have to spend six hours a day, five days a week, with people not of your choosing, all of the same age and, in some schools, all of the same sex? The only place this prepares you for is a nursing home!
Sally Lestrange, Somerset
As a home-educator of three children, I can attest that they socialise with the best. Our children can converse with anyone on an equal footing. The only pitfall is adults who believe children should be seen and not heard, and are shocked if they have their own opinions.
How much true socialising do you see among schoolchildren? Round here they hang around on street corners, spit and swear, and throw stones at each other across busy roads with little regard for whom they may injure.
Claire Wade, By e-mail
NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY
Our 14-year-old daughter is top of the class at an independent school that takes children with a range of abilities. The few students on her level will all have left, for various reasons, when she starts her GCSE course in September. The staff say she will still gain A* results, but I worry about the lack of peer support and the teaching level. She recently gained a place at an academically well-regarded school, by which she is considered to be average, not high flying. Do we trust her school or risk moving her to a more challenging environment?
Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 21 April, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser