Almost a third of six-year-olds are struggling with reading after a year at school, official figures suggest.
Nearly 180,000 youngsters failed to meet the expected standard in the Government's controversial reading check this year, according to statistics published by the Department for Education (DfE).
The results also showed a clear gender gap, with girls outperforming boys by eight percentage points.
This is the second year that pupils at the end of Year 1 - the first year of formal schooling - have taken the Government's test, which is based on "synthetic phonics", a system which focuses on sounds rather than recognising whole words.
Youngsters are asked to sound out, or decode 40 words - some of which are made up like "voo", "spron" and "terg" - to test their reading skills.
Ministers have hailed phonics as the best way to boost reading standards, and brought in the check last year amid concerns that children with poor reading skills were slipping through the net.
But the test has proved controversial, with teachers arguing that it does not give them information about children's abilities, and risks labelling some youngsters as failures at an early age.
The latest results show that 69% of six-year-olds at mainstream state schools taking the test this year got at least 32 out of 40 - the standard expected for the age group. This is up 11 percentage points on last year.
It means that this year almost 180,000 youngsters to failed to reach the threshold.
Almost three-quarters of girls (73%) scored at least 32 on the check, compared with two-thirds (65%) of boys. This is the same gender gap as last year.
By the end of Year 2, after two years of compulsory schooling, 85% of pupils had achieved the expected standard.