Dear Sarah Hogg: Don't fob four-year-olds off with proper school - young children need the safety of nurseries. An angry mother reminds the Prime Minister's policy adviser what it's like to be little

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I was too angry to eat breakfast yesterday. Not only has John Major gone back on his commitment to nursery education, but it seems likely that you are going to give him a let-out. Your offer of primary school places at four instead of five is a poisoned chalice. The difference between nursery school and school is too important to be blurred, let alone dismissed.

You may have forgotten about getting an almost four-year-old to nursery school in the morning. Your children are grown up. But let me remind you. The tears at the traffic lights are not because of homework, but because a beloved threadbare elephant has been left behind. And yes, we do have to go back for it. I'm not at all sure that the reception class teacher, the one who will be taking all these four-year-olds, is going to be sympathetic to our excuse for being late. A good nursery school isn't like school at all - punctuality isn't the be-all and end-all - it's a preparation for the real business.

When my three-year-old was offered a place in the nursery attached to our Church of England primary school I jumped at it, even though it was for mornings only (in this Lambeth school, so many children want nursery places that the only fair thing to do is divide the day into two sessions).

Now there's a thought. Just a little extra money would allow the four-year-olds to stay in the nursery all day. They already have the facilities - their own play area, a quiet room, with books on shelves they can reach without having to stand on a chair. Just like the basin and the loos. They are little and low-level. Nothing to panic about if you're in a bit of a rush.

Mind you, there are still accidents: nursery teachers know all about 'back to basics'. At some stage, most mothers will have undressed their children at bedtime to find a strange and oddly-fitting pair of pants, the result of an earlier mishap. I dread to think what a field day the big boys in year two would have with that.

Because that's the nub of it. More than anything I want my children to go into proper school with confidence. The playground is still a rough old place. All that jostling and teasing is enough to put a four-year-old off school for life.

And when it comes to schoolwork proper, I have to say I don't care whether my child can do his eight times table at four. I expect by the time he's 15 he'll have learnt a thing or two. Give me a musical jam session and messy painting any day.

Parents are not going to be hoodwinked that easily. They know that an earlier start to formal education is a cheap way to fulfil your promise on educating four-year-olds.

It depends what you mean by education, I suppose. In my book, when you are only four, a lot can depend on a stuffed elephant.

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