I cannot understand why Marc Lambert's essay on at what point we should teach literacy skills in the infant classroom does not take as much as a sideways glance at our chaotic spelling system (Essay of the week, April 1).

This persistent failure within academia to do so smacks of intellectual dishonesty. Certainly, timing is important but you can't ignore the nuts and bolts of English orthography. A root-and-branch overhaul is long overdue. That it has not happened is due mainly to a lack of political will. (Watch the politicians' eyes glaze over at the very mention of spelling reform. It's much more comfortable to throw money at it.)

It is only when we have passed the Janet and John stage that we start to realise we have been duped and begin to lose interest in the written word, marking the beginning of a downward spiral ending in alienation.

It was John Steinbeck who said: "Learning to read is perhaps the greatest single effort the human undertakes, and he must do it as a child." So why do we watch them floundering?

George B Anderson


Marc Lambert writes an interesting essay. I take issue with his first third, which is extremely negative and quite often accusatory. We traditionalists were not the ones who said literacy and grammar were bad 30 years ago, and when Lambert gets round to telling us what ought to be happening we find that we are in fact doing what he is suggesting under different headings.

I observe from taking a three and a four-year-old to school every day that their ability to articulate with their peers is sometimes advanced by comparison. They are encouraged to experiment with alphabet and writing but not coerced. Above all, they are talked to by adults.

Is this the preparation alongside creative playing which Lambert says is happening so usefully in Scandinavia?

Neil McKie