Too many children are still struggling in the three Rs by the age of seven, ministers declared yesterday.
Results of national curriculum assessments in reading, writing, speaking and listening and mathematics showed little change this year – the fifth year in succession they have almost stagnated.
It means there are still about 83,000 seven-year-olds with a reading age of just five. In addition, only one in three children on free school meals reach the required standard in core subjects.
Overall, 85 per cent achieved the expected level in reading, 81 per cent in writing and 87 per cent in speaking and listening – all three figures the same as last year. In maths, there was a one percentage point improvement to 90 per cent.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb said it was "worrying" so many pupils were behind just three years into their school careers.
"Success in later life is founded on an understanding of the three Rs in the first few years of school," he added. "Problems must be identified at a young age and rectified before it is too late."
Ministers are introducing a new reading test for five and six-year-olds next summer in an attempt to identify those who are struggling earlier.
The test, which has been criticised, will be a phonics-based check on their reading standards. It will be made up of 20 simple words like "cat" and "dog" and 20 made-up words to test their understanding of phonics.
Mr Gibb added: "The overriding objective of the Government is to close the attainment gap between those from poorer and wealthier backgrounds."
A regional breakdown of the figures shows some surprising variations. In Tower Hamlets in east London, for instance, 47 per cent of pupils are entitled to free school meals yet 85 per cent achieve the expected level in reading.
The two top performers in reading are Rutland and Windsor and Maidenhead – each with 92 per cent. They are also in the lead in writing results – with 91 per cent and 90 per cent respectively.