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Playtime please

What's in a word? When the word is "school", rather a lot - politicians, parents and the public think of school as a place where children sit down in a classroom and learn. Primary school is where they learn, above all, the 3Rs ("Early-years debate in search of battle lines", October 23).

If we want to provide a truly play-based education for children between three and six (or - if it were up to me - seven) we should stop calling it school. "Nursery", "kindergarten" or, as in Wales, "foundation phase" all suggest something qualitatively different from school. Then all we have to do is convince non-educationists of the importance of laying sound foundations for children's learning (especially literacy). And we have to reassure them that this doesn't mean holding back those children who are interested in reading and writing, which would be every bit as cruel as forcing the others to do something for which they're not yet developmentally ready.

If we had a starting age of four for kindergarten, then a school starting age of six, it wouldn't matter if kindergarten and school shared the same site - the ethos would be different. And the rest of the country would know what we education mavens are on about in the "early-years debate".

Sue Palmer, Literacy specialist and author of '21st Century Boys', Edinburgh.

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