That is why it is so damning that little has been done at national level in Wales to attack this life-wrecking problem. At present, any attempt at action is local, with a "patchy" inconsistency between authorities.
There is a great deal to be said for local authorities determining literacy strategies for their own schools, as well as teachers being able to target these strategies at individual pupils. But there has to be some co-ordination nationally to give it direction.
Teachers TES Cymru spoke to this week believe a well-funded foundation phase (FP) could win the literacy war. They say the FP holds the key to helping children to communicate better at an earlier age.
However, it does not look as if the play-led curriculum is going to be well funded. Only this week, in an unprecedented move, Welsh headteachers spent a day lobbying education minister Jane Hutt. She also came under fire by education unions as an official investigation into underfunding began at the Senedd. Everyone now knows this strategy is cash poor, and this week Chris Howard, vice-president of the National Association of Head Teachers, makes no bones about it (see page 33).
"Ms Hutt's best-laid plans are sinking fast," he says. "Last-minute rescue attempts have only poured oil on already troubled waters. The primary sector is united in its discontent."
So what next for the FP, which early on seemed to promise educational nirvana? The garden is far from rosy now. Will it still have a positive impact on children and national progress?
We hear this week that the National Behaviour and Attendance Review (NBAR) steering group, which recommends earlier intervention in literacy problems, is to be disbanded. The Assembly government says members will have a strong input, but not as one unit. Is this wise?
The government says it will produce a short-term action plan in response to the NBAR's recommendations by the beginning of next year. But who will be there checking on its progress? And can we afford to wait that long?