Poor writing is biggest hurdle
Overall literacy standards in Wales are improving, despite a slowdown, but experts see poor writing skills as a greater long-term problem than reading.
It has led to calls for schools and teachers, not local authorities, to take control over children's communication skills.
"Schools need more freedom to come up with activities for literacy to evolve," said Debra Thomas, deputy head of Llantwit Major School in the Vale of Glamorgan.
In a report released last week by Estyn, Best Practice in the Reading and Writing of Pupils aged 7 to 14 Years, inspectors found written communication was often the biggest barrier to pupils' learning.
Assembly government statistics for 2007 say more than a quarter of pupils did not reach the expected level in writing by the end of key stage 2. More than 30 per cent failed to hit the mark in English by the end of KS3.
Research since the 1970s has concluded that seven-year-olds with poor literacy continue to fall behind their peers.
And at last week's launch of the National Behaviour and Attendance Review (NBAR) report, it was generally accepted that Wales was still making insufficient progress.
NBAR group member Mark Provis, inclusion manager at Carmarthen County Council and inclusion representative of the Association of Directors of Education in Wales, said: "Many young people in secure settings have unidentified learning needs. And a significant number of them would have been eligible for special needs statements. It's a big cost to society and the individual."
A study last year by the London School of Economics estimated that young people classed as NEET (not in education, employment or training) cost the UK economy pound;3.65 billion each year.
But a lack of central funding for literacy schemes in Wales is evident. Ken Reid, NBAR's chair, said: "It's not necessarily about more funding, but targeted funding in the early years."
The NBAR concluded that providing individual support for children with poor literacy would be expensive but cost-effective in the long term.
It said teachers, support staff and other child agency workers needed training to recognise literacy and behavioural problems. It also said parents should be included more in children's learning.
A UK study conducted more than a decade ago by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that family literacy programmes were beneficial but still inconsistently used. Pockets of good practice were identified.
Families Learning Together, which took part in the research, has run successfully in Cardiff schools for 15 years and inspired similar models across Wales.
Newport was recently praised by Estyn for its "outstanding" literacy work. The inspection team found schools in the authority that needed help were well supported, with good standards of behaviour. It has a number of nationally successful schemes for young children, including Bookstart, funded by the Basic Skills Agency, which gives free books to babies as young as seven months.
Catch-Up and Reading Recovery (RR) programmes target the lowest-achieving six-year-olds. RR, which has proved effective in England, gives pupils intensive one-to-one support.
Many schools also follow Reading Is Fundamental, which gives books to reception-age children.