New statistics by the Department for Education show that 53 per cent of boys have not reached a "good level of development" by five, compared to 35 per cent of girls. Combined, the figure is 44 per cent.
Children are assessed by teachers to see if they can carry out basic skills like writing their name and reciting letters of the alphabet.
Sir Michael Marmot, professor of public health at University College London, said: "Only about 50 per cent of children are rated by their teachers as having achieved a good level of development by the age of five.
"You know what that means? Poorer level of early school development; poorer performance at every school stage; lower status; living in a poor area. It all starts at the beginning of life and works through the life course. This is horrendous really."
Those who failed at school also tend to live shorter lives that are blighted earlier by disability.
A year ago Sir Michael unveiled a review, called Fair Society, Healthy Lives, into how to even out the differences in people's health across geographical areas and social classes.
Giving pre-school children "the best start in life" was the highest priority recommendation, as targeting them has the biggest effect. Sir Michael proposed increasing spending on this age group with measures such as "more parenting support programmes, a well-trained early years work force and high quality early years care"
He said: "It seems to me that we have got a responsibility as a society to ask, 'What can we do to address this question?"
A Department of Health spokesman said: "A DfE spokesperson said: "Good early years education is absolutely vital to ensuring that children get the best possible start in life.
"This is why we have commissioned Dame Clare Tickell to undertake a full review of the early years foundation stage, with a view to making early years education less rigid and more focused on children's learning and development.
"This report also highlights the divide between children from the richest and poorest households, which is something that the Government is determined to tackle.
"To do this, we will put in place a pupil premium to support the most disadvantaged children, introduce a reading progress check for six year olds to identify those falling behind before it's too late, and raise standards in education across the board through our schools reforms."
Posted by Penny Hosie on 11.2.11
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