Alex Dowty has just completed his first year studying law at Oriel college, Oxford, despite not having a single GCSE or A-Level to his name.
Armed instead with credits from Open University courses in humanities and politics and a Grade 8 harp exam, 19-year-old Alex received an unconditional offer from the famous college – its decision vindicated when Alex obtained a good pass in his first-year exams.
It’s a dream come true for Alex, who has wanted to study law since he was 14. ‘Initially, I was interested in politics,’ he says. ‘But through my work as a trustee with the Children’s Rights Alliance for England I became fascinated by law because it accepts that people are flawed and different, but tries to cope with that whilst, hopefully, protecting freedoms. Plus it’s a chance to have a good argument.’
‘I didn’t take GCSEs or A-Levels, because if you are home educated it is difficult to get course work accredited, as well as being very expensive. Apart from that, they didn’t look much fun and didn’t really go into areas that I liked.’
To gain experience in his chosen field, Alex, who was home educated after being removed from school at the age of eight, has worked for a number of years as a part-time clerk to solicitors near his home in Leytonstone, Greater London. However, his obvious dedication to his chosen subject did not mean that finding a university place was simple. Before he was accepted at Oxford, Alex was rejected (or just plain ignored) by several universities – and one made a conditional offer requiring that he should gain a first on his OU course before allowing him entrance.
Alex believes his child-centred education, which allowed him to develop his interests independently and work at his own pace, has stood him in good stead at Oxford. ‘University is an enormous shock to everyone, but being home educated probably helped me settle in more quickly than some people, who felt uncomfortable initially with the change from more directed learning,’ he says. ‘Every week we attend a pretty intense tutorial. At the end, we are given a list of 20 books to read for the next week, which you just have to get on with. It’s great – just like home education, but with tutorials.’
© Karen Luckhurst, August 2008
Karen, a journalist and home educator, has also been listening to views on exams from academics and home-educated young people.