Most 11-year-olds from poorest families cannot read or write

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Children from the poorest homes are doing worse in basic literacy tests than three years ago.

New research published today paints a picture of growing numbers of disadvantaged children leaving primary school unable to master the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

The research shows the gap between poor and better-off is widening dramatically, and is the first concrete sign that, while standards among better-off children are rising, those at the bottom of the pile are in more danger of becoming a lost generation once they leave school, despite billions of pounds being pumped into schemes to raise standards in inner-city deprived areas.

The research examined the performance of children on free school meals in places which failed to reach minimum targets in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds, as well as GCSE results.

While 45 per cent reached the minimum standard in SATS exams three years ago, this had fallen to 40 per cent, down 13 per cent. It means three out of every five poor children from under-performing schools will struggle with the basics at secondary school.

"It is a scandal that the results of the poorest children in the weakest primary schools have actually worsened over the last three years," said Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), which is being officially launched tomorrow and which carried out the study, said: "The research is a stark reminder of the inequalities facing poor pupils in this country."

The vast majority of the 165,000 pupils covered by the research were white Britons. As an ethnic group, they were likely to perform worse than others and were twice as likely to fail to meet minimum GCSE standards (five A* to C grades including maths and English) than Bangladeshi children.

The gap for poor children widens at secondary school. They are a third as likely to reach the minimum standard compared with better-off peers. In primary schools, they are half as likely.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said projects such as the Government's "pupil premium", which gives schools an extra £430 for every pupil they take in on free school meals, would help address the problem.