According to updated figures for 2018, 57 per cent of pupils on Free School Meals achieved a good level of development at the end of the EYFS, compared to 74 per cent for all other pupils.
In 2017, 56 per cent of pupils achieved a good level of development compared to 73 per cent of all other pupils.
However, unrounded figures show that the good level of development gap has widened slightly from 17.3 per cent in 2018, up from 17.0 per cent in 2017.
In 2018, for children eligible for free school meals just 55 per cent achieved at least the expected standard in all 17 Early Learning Goals (ELGs), compared to 73 per cent of all other children. This compares with 54 per cent of children on FSM and 71 per cent of all other children in 2017.
- Children continue to achieve a good level of development at the end of Reception
The tables published today also show wide regional variations in children’s development with children in London gaining higher scores in the ELGs than children living outside the capital.
The figures show, for example, that 61 per cent of children in Kingston Upon Hull and 62 per cent of children in Middlesbrough are achieving at least the expected levels in all ELGs, compared to 73 per cent of children in London.
The additional tables cover gender, ethnicity, eligibility for free school meals special educational needs, English as a first language, month of birth, and deprived areas.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds acknowledged that the figures highlighted the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.
He said, ‘It’s encouraging to see an increase in the proportion of children reaching a good level of development in their early skills as we know these are an important building block for their development.
‘However once again these figures highlight the gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers, with too many arriving at school without these crucial building blocks, leaving them at an unfair disadvantage.’
Mr Hinds said that the 15 free hours of early learning and childcare per week offered to the most disadvantaged two-year-olds aimed at giving these children access to high quality early years support.
‘I am also really focused on the local variation in these statistics – with disadvantaged children in London substantially outperforming their peers outside of the capital,’ he added.
‘We are using programmes like our Opportunity Areas and Opportunity North East to focus on these local variations and work with communities to find solutions and provide support.
‘But we know parents are crucial to their child’s development which is why I am working with a coalition of charities, organisations and businesses to look at how we can better support parents with children’s early language and literacy development at home.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘We know that a quality early education sets our youngest children up for a lifelong love of learning - and while it's important to remember that all children are individuals who develop at their own pace, it's still very concerning to see that the gap between the number of children eligible for free school meals and their peers achieving a "good level of development" at the end of reception is continuing to persist.
‘At a time when the Government continues to stress the importance of social mobility, it's clear that much more needs to be done that much more needs to be done to ensure that all children, and especially those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, are given the best possible start to their educational journeys.'
Just 23 per cent of children with sprecial educational needs achieved at least the expected standard in all ELGs, compared to 76 per cent for children with no identified SEN.
Mr Leitch added, 'Today's figures similarly reinforce the need to ensure that children with special educational needs are given the best possible support in their earliest years. We know all too well that many children who need extra support in order to flourish struggle to enjoy the same opportunities as their peers, and it's vital that action is taken by Government to address this.
‘The fact is that while ministers talk a good game when it comes to improving children’s life chances, their inaction speaks louder. If the Government truly wants to ensure children of every background can access quality provision, then they need to ensure there is adequate investment in the early years.’