More children are starting school with expected numeracy and literacy skills

An extra 38,600 five year olds are starting primary school with the expected skills, which includes being able to count to twenty, describe weight and shapes in everyday language, write their own name and read simple sentences, as well as play confidently with friends.

However, there is still a significant gender gap between boys and girls. The gap has decreased from 16.3 percentage points to 15.6 percentage points, but only 58.6 per cent of boys start school with the expected level of development, compared to 74.3 per cent of girls.

Critics have also pointed to the fact that one in five children are still starting school without the necessary skills.

Gareth Jenkins, director of UK poverty at Save the Children, said: “Today’s figures show that despite progress, one in five children still arrive at school lacking the skills they need to learn and thrive.

“Unless we act now to boost the quality of early years education, it will be a decade or more before we see every five-year-old arriving at school ready to learn – with thousands of children suffering as a consequence.

“The evidence shows it’s the poorest children who are more likely to start primary school already behind, and who are then much more likely to struggle in school, and in life.”

Education and Childcare Minister Sam Gyimah praised the results as great news that should give parents confidence about the development of their children.

Gyimah said: “We know that the first few years of a child’s life are vital in terms of how well they go on to do at school and beyond.

“It is great news that more children than ever before are achieving the expected level of development in the early years, because parents should be confident that while their children are out of their care, they’re not only happy and having fun, but at the same time developing important skills - building confidence with numbers and letters - to ensure they fulfil their potential.”

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