Family life is also at fault, says head
His school is a popular comprehensive in Huntingdon. But while there have been no changes in his intake, standards have dropped significantly in the past nine years.
The school sets the nationally standardised tests of the National Foundation for Educational Research to measure the competence of new pupils.
And when Mr Downes looks at his records he can see his school scored 109 (on a national mean of 100) nine years ago.
Since then, the year-on-year average has been 106, 106, 104, 103, 102, 98.5, 96.9 and 96.9. The average boy's score has dropped even further.
Mr Downes said: "A fall of nine points, according to the NFER, is a significant drop and very worrying. I believe society is placing a lower value on being able to read. Families should be reading to each other from the earliest age, but they are not. The tests are showing these children have poorer verbal reasoning. The scores for non-verbal reasoning have not dropped to the same amount.
"This downward trend has been sharpened by the changes in the curriculum and the poor morale in primary schools. I believe the extra work the curriculum and its tests have caused mean there is less time for teachers to concentrate on reading."
The knock-on effect, his staff say, are classes that find it harder to catch on to their lessons as quickly and consequently become more restless.