Teachers in the great majority of secondary schools are giving too low a priority to improving literacy and numeracy standards, say inspectors.
The damning indictment comes despite millions of pounds being pumped into schools by ministers to get teachers to concentrate on the three Rs.
Children struggling to read, write or add up when they start secondary school do not get enough help to catch up, according to a report by Ofsted, the education watchdog.
It warns that setting - a practice favoured in Tony Blair's controversial White Paper on education - has led to them being ignored in class. Under setting, children are placed in groups according to their ability in different subjects. The report concludes: "In the main, when pupils are taught in sets, there is little further attempt to meet the individual needs of pupils in those sets catering for low attainers."
The report also goes on to warn that the teaching of literacy and numeracy across the curriculum is given "low priority" in "the great majority of secondary schools inspected".
"The teaching of literacy by all teachers has lost momentum and numeracy teaching is unsatisfactory," it adds.
The report, one of two published today by Ofsted on government strategies for improving standards in primary and secondary schools, makes it clear that results in maths and English in both sectors have improved.
However, it warns that these improvements can come at the expense of younger children. "In the last four years, results for seven-year-olds have improved very little overall and too little attention is given to improving year-two results [seven-year-olds]," it says.Reuse content