Education Secretary Damian Hinds has been criticised for presiding over rising inequality as he prepared to make his first major speech on tackling social mobility.
The minister was due on Tuesday to set out plans aimed at halving the number of children starting school without early speaking or reading skills by 2028.
Attacking the “persistent scandal” that many disadvantaged children begin school unable to read properly, Hinds will gather the expertise of businesses, charities, tech and media, to back a £5m trial in the North of England and hand £6.5m to voluntary groups and £8.5m to councils.
But Hinds came under fire for the existing inequality chasm between children in care and those from the rest of society, with the attainment gap between the most vulnerable and their peers rising in Key Stage One since 2010.
In maths, the attainment gap has risen from 23% to 29%, an increase of over a quarter. In reading, the gap has grown from 23% to 25%, and in writing from 27% to 29%.
Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary, said: “These damning figures show that under this government inequality in our schools is rising; despite all their rhetoric on social mobility the Tories are simply entrenching inequality.
“The measure of our education system should be the support that it offers to the most vulnerable children, and the steps we take to level the playing field between them and their more affluent peers. Quite simply, the Conservatives are failing this test.”
The proportion of care leavers who are not in education, employment, or training (“NEET”) has also risen since 2010, Labour said.
In 2010, 32% of care leavers were NEETs, but by 2017 this has increased to 40% since 2010.
Labour’s analysis comes as research shows 28% of four-and-five-year-olds lack the early communication and literacy skills expected by the end of reception year.
Hinds won the backing of a wide range of public figures for his new plans, however.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “We know that what happens before school starts has a profound impact on a young person’s academic attainment later in life. The Minister is absolutely right to set an ambitious target for closing the early literacy gap by focusing on the home learning environment.”
Professor Viv Bennett, chief nurse of Public Health England, said: “It’s vital every child gets the best start in life if they are to reach their full potential, and that is why we are pleased to be working with the Department for Education on this excellent work promoting language and literacy at home.
“Early speech, language and communication skills provide a foundation for young children to develop, build relationships and socially interact with others and be ready for school.”
Sinéad Rocks, director of Education at the BBC, said: “Exploring ways to improve pre-school language and literacy is at the heart of the BBC’s new education strategy.”
Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said: “We know from our partnerships with places like Middlesbrough and Stoke-on-Trent that a coalition of the public, business and voluntary sector can make a difference to this crucial issue and give every child the foundations in early language and literacy they need to thrive.”
In a speech on Tuesday, Hinds is expected to say: “It is a persistent scandal that we have children starting school not able to communicate in full sentences, not able to read simple words.
“This matters - because when you’re behind from the start you rarely catch up, your peers don’t wait, the gap just widens. This has a huge impact on social mobility.
“And the truth is that the vast majority of these children’s time is at home.
“Yes, the home learning environment can be, understandably, the last taboo in education policy – but we can’t afford to ignore it when it comes to social mobility.
“I don’t have any interest in lecturing parents here… I know it’s parents who bring up their children, who love them, who invest in them in so many ways, who want the best for their children.
“But that doesn’t mean extra support and advice can’t be helpful.”