Poor children in Leeds who fall behind in the three Rs at the age of seven already have their life chances virtually determined, according to a hard-hitting new report.
More than one in four seven-year-old pupils who receive free school meals in the city are failing to reach the expected standard in reading, the latest Department for Education figures show.
Just over a third are not reaching the expected level in writing while almost a quarter are not achieving it in maths.
Across Yorkshire, deprived pupils performed worse than anywhere else in England, the statistics reveal.
Save the Children has warned today that failing to harness the potential of the poorest children could cost the economy billions of pounds.
The charity said by the age of seven, nearly 80 per cent of the difference in GCSE results between rich and poor children has already been determined.
The first two years a child is at school is a crucial window for closing the attainment gap, according to its new report, Too Young to Fail.
But the education system currently focuses more on SAT and GCSE performance, the charity warns as it calls for more investment to help primary-age pupils .
New analysis in its report shows failing to help them catch up could cost the economy £30bn in untapped potential by 2030.
It also reveals links between poor attainment and higher rates of truancy, anti-social behaviour and imprisonment.
Save the Children’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth, said: “Many children starting school this term already have the odds stacked against them. These children of the recession, born during the global financial crisis into a world of low growth, stagnant wages and increasing living costs, where communities are feeling the effects of austerity, need our help more than ever. The cost of failing is a young child without a fair chance in life however hard they try.”
The Department for Education said it was increasing the pupil premium to £2.5bn a year and helping teachers identify pupils who need extra help through new phonics checks.
“Many thousands of children will now receive the extra support they need to catch up with their peers,” a spokesman said.
Leeds Council said it encouraged its best schools and teachers to work together to improve attainment levels across the city.
“This means schools are able to build on the successes of others and help pupils reach their potential,” a spokeswoman said.