Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg this week announced #163;55 million in additional funding for pupils in need of help with English and maths when entering secondary school.
The new #163;500 "catch-up premium" will be handed to schools to give extra help to nearly 110,000 pupils who fail to achieve level 4 in either reading or maths at the end of primary school.
Mr Clegg unveiled the proposal at the Liberal Democrat annual conference in Brighton, where he attempted to position the Lib Dems as "the party of education". He said the move from primary to secondary school was a "massive step" for pupils, but was all the more daunting for those who are not equipped with the basics in English and maths.
"Pupils who start secondary school behind their peers should be given every chance to catch up as quickly as possible," Mr Clegg said on Wednesday, adding that this new funding "will allow schools to provide intensive tuition to help pupils to get up to speed and so get the best out of their secondary school education".
According to the Department for Education, just 30 per cent of pupils who fail to achieve level 4 in reading at the end of primary school go on to gain five good GCSEs. For pupils in receipt of free school meals, the figure plummets to 7 per cent.
Sources close to Mr Clegg said the money was coming from an underspend within the DfE. The cash will be allocated to schools from January and will be guaranteed until 2015.
Julia Douetil, head of the European Centre for Reading Recovery at the Institute of Education, University of London, welcomed the announcement but urged the government to consider a similar programme earlier in pupils' school careers.
"The evidence shows that acknowledging the problem at the age of 6 has a tremendous impact on children's performance at school," Ms Douetil said. "I hope this means they are looking at the issue at key stage 1, because children who have literacy problems especially end up costing the system more."