Three in five of the poorest 11-year-olds lack basic literacy

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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 the worrying picture of growing numbers of disadvantaged children leaving primary school unable to master the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.

The research illustrates the gap between poor and better-off young people 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.

The findings come despite billions of pounds being pumped into schemes to raise standards in inner-city deprived areas. The research looked at the performance of children on free school meals in places which had failed to reach minimum Government targets for national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds and GCSE results.

It showed that, while 45 per cent of them had reached the minimum standard in SAT exams three years ago, this had now fallen to 40 per cent, a 13 per cent drop. It means that three out of every five poor children from under-performing schools will have difficulty in mastering the basics as they start 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 the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), which is being officially launched tomorrow and 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 found to be likely to perform worse than others. They were twice as likely to be unable to meet minimum GCSE standards (five A* to C grades including maths and English) than Bangladeshi children, for instance.

While the research highlights the declining standards of poor children in primary schools, the gap widens at secondary school. There, they are a third as likely to reach the minimum standard in comparison with their better-off peers (18 per cent compared with 61 per cent). In primary schools, they are half as likely (40 per cent compared to 81 per cent).

Sir Peter added: "The children and young people the EEF aims to benefit deserve better. We hope that, by identifying, developing and evaluating projects which are cost-effective and scalable, we can start to have a lasting impact on their lives as well as influencing the way schools spend their billions." Mr Gove said projects such as the Government's "pupil premium", which gives schools an extra £430 for every pupil on free school meals, would help to address the problem.