Education: Early-years writing lessons 'do no good' · Research runs counter to ministers' curriculum plan · Report is inconclusive, says government Polly Curtis, education editor Monday July 14, 2008 The Guardian Teaching children as young as three to write short sentences and use punctuation has little effect on their literacy skills later on, according to research which raises new questions about the government's plan for a curriculum for the under-fives. Tutoring children in nurseries to read using basic phonics and write simple sentences does not improve their success once they start school, but encouraging them to talk and communicate does, the unpublished government research has found. The research was released under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Liberal Democrats, who last night questioned why the government had previously chosen not to release the findings, which run counter to its plans for an early-years curriculum. The Department for Children, Schools and Families insisted it had published more substantial and conclusive evidence to back up its policy. The research, commissioned from academics at the Institute of Education, University of London, compares how children score in the early learning goals, which from September become compulsory, with how they score in literacy and numeracy tests once they reach school. Controversy has surrounded two of the goals, which suggest that children should attempt to read using phonics to break down the words by their sounds and to write "simple sentences" including some basic punctuation. Childcare experts have argued it is rushing children into formal learning too soon. The research says that these two goals "did not seem crucial" to high performance once children arrive at school. Instead it suggests that "language, communication and thinking" skills are strong predictors of a child's ability to read and write early on. "Overall the data suggest use of spoken language is important to becoming an accomplished writer," it says. Children's disposition, attitudes and social development are also important predictors, it adds. The documents were not published because they were deemed "inconclusive", according to the letter accompanying the research to the Liberal Democrats from the National Assessment Agency, which oversees national testing on behalf of the government. Annette Brooke, Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for children, said: "It is clear and very different from other research by the government in that it shows that making all children learn what is effectively reading and writing hasn't produced benefits once they start school." A DCSF spokeswoman said the report was a "very small-scale piece of internal analysis" which had looked at only six schools and was not conclusive. Last week, the children's minister, Beverley Hughes, announced that the two goals in question would be subject to a review of the primary curriculum being conducted by Sir Jim Rose. They will still be made compulsory from September while they are reviewed. Parents will also be allowed to vote to let their nursery opt out of the curriculum in a move designed to allow some freedoms for Steiner and Montessori settings, which emphasise learning through play.