Children from deprived families have already fallen substantially behind their peers by the age of five, according to new figures released today.
The results of assessments carried out by teachers at the end of reception year, when most children are five, show that 52 per cent of all pupils have reached a ‘good’ level of development after their first year in school.
But a break-down of the results of the Early Years Foundation State Profile (EYFSP) looking at how different groups of pupils fare, reveals that just 29 per cent of boys and 44 per cent of girls (36 per cent overall) eligible for free school meals reach this level, compared to 55 per cent of other pupils.
Will Higham, UK director of Save the Children, which earlier this term launched its own campaign Too Young to Fail to draw attention to the achievement gap, said: "If you look at the gaps, what's really shocking is that the biggest difference for children of that age are in the core skills of reading and writing.
"It just shows, especially in the context of the huge debate we've had on social mobility in this country, that problems are embedded at an incredibly early age. Which is why we are all for a fair chances premium on top of the pupil premium, to really target investment for pupils on free school meals."
The definition of ‘good’ has changed this year, to make it a tougher level to reach, but the gap between poor pupils and others has remained the same at 19 percentage points.
To be rated at a good level of development, pupils must have reached the expected level in 12 of the 17 areas they are assessed on. These include speaking, understanding, listening, making relationships and behaviour.
The expected level in numbers has increased since last year and to reach it five-year-olds must be able to count to 20, add and subtract two single-digit numbers and solve doubling, halving and sharing problems, previously being able to count to ten was enough.
In a pilot study on the new EYFSP, black children did disproportionately worse compared to the previous system, but in the results out today the gaps between ethnic groups are almost identical to the results last year. These show that Chinese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and non-British or Irish white groups perform less well, particularly on speaking – where children are expected to be able to express themselves effectively using the past, present and future tenses accurately.
The figures also revealed the extent of the gap between the oldest children in the class and the youngest. While 63 per cent of autumn-born children reached a good level of development, just 40 per cent of summer-born children did – many of these children were still four when the assessments were done.