09/09/2014 13:44 BST | Updated 09/11/2014 05:59 GMT

Nothing in Education Is More Important Than Reading

The 'Read On. Get On' campaign has an historic goal - to eliminate illiteracy. It may surprise some that in this country with its literary heritage, its leading universities, its Nobel laureates, its history and its world-class economy, that illiteracy should remain untamed and intractable.

Yet one in five 11-year-olds are still leaving primary school struggling with the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. That's why, when this Government came into office, it made improving the teaching of reading a key priority. It's why the reforms to education have had to be so far-reaching.

The Government's plan for education is designed to ensure that every single child leaves school prepared for life in modern Britain. And nothing in education is more important than reading. Until you learn to read, you can't read to learn.

So over the last four years, we've reformed our education system to help every child become a confident, fluent and enthusiastic reader.

International evidence shows that systematic synthetic phonics is the most effective way to teach children to read. So we have provided extra funding and advice to schools to help them choose and buy the best phonics programmes and strengthened teacher training so that new teachers understand the theory and teaching of phonics.

Ofsted's inspection framework now puts much more emphasis on how well schools are teaching their pupils to read: inspectors listen to children reading aloud, watch phonics classes and check how schools help weaker readers to improve.

And the Government introduced a Phonics Check, a simple test for every six-year-old, taken at the end of the second year of primary school. When the Check was piloted in 2011, just 32% of pupils passed. In 2012 that rose to 58% across the country. And last year it rose to 69%. That is a huge improvement and is testament to the hard work of primary school teachers in embracing systematic synthetic phonics.

Since the check was introduced, teachers have identified 414,000 six-year-olds who needed extra help. No longer will children who are struggling with reading slip through the net with their problems unnoticed.

But there's still further to go. A 69% pass rate means there are still nearly one-in-three children who are not keeping up with their peers in reading. I believe every child can and should reach this level - and schools all over the country are already showing that, with the right support, every single child can do so.

So we're making reading a priority right from the early years. High quality early education and activities such as reading aloud and singing, whether at nurseries, child-minders or home, help young children to develop their language skills and lead to better results throughout their school career. We have introduced the Early Language Development Programme and made sure that all three and four year olds, as well as two year olds from the lowest income families, have access to 15 hours of government-funded early education per week.

Our new national school curriculum, which came into force last week, sets high expectations for every age and every subject and puts a much greater focus on reading, covering a wide range of books, poems and plays and encouraging children to read widely for pleasure, in school and at home.

Those who argue that it's unrealistic to expect children from deprived backgrounds to reach the same standards as their wealthier peers I believe are wrong. Narrowing the gap in attainment between children from the poorest homes and the rest is one of this government's top priorities.

That is why we have introduced the pupil premium: extra funding for schools on top of their existing budgets to support disadvantaged children, at £1300 per primary age pupil and £935 per secondary age pupil. We have also just launched the Early Years Pupil Premium, at £300 per disadvantaged child from April 2015.

We also give schools an extra premium for children who didn't reach the expected standard in reading or maths at the end of primary school, so that they can give extra support, like individual tuition or small group classes, to help those children catch up.

We are already making good progress. This year's results show a record number of children reaching the expected standard of reading (89%) by the end of primary school, and half of all children exceeding it.

Compared to 2009, 81,000 more 11-year-olds are now reaching the expected standards for the 3 Rs - and the number exceeding that standard has risen by another 59,000 children.

But there's still much further to go. The Read On. Get On. campaign can help make a difference. Together, we can help thousands more children to read well - giving them the key to unlocking the magical world of reading.