Many children begin school without knowing their own first name because their parents barely speak to them at home.
Coalition 'poverty tsar' Frank Field has made explosive claims about the tragic effect of poor parenting in England. He said many children do not know their name by the age of five, while experts believe half of youngsters arrive at infant school with poor communication skills. Some children do not know what to do with a crayon, other than stab it at someone.
The Labour MP's claims were backed by a number of heads who said some children were not even aware they have a name.
Mr Field, who has conducted a review of poverty in the UK, said children who are behind when they start school never catch up with their peers. He blamed the situation on the low aspirations of parents trapped in poverty where no one in the family has worked for generations. These parents do not bother to play with, talk to or read to their children.
Education experts also blamed the arrival of the Internet which they say has contributed to a fall in verbal communication in many households.
Mr Field, Tony Blair's former welfare minister, said many children were not ready for school.
"By being ready for school I mean knowing their own name, being dry, knowing that crayons are for drawing and not stabbing the person next to you — a range of very simple skills like that which is lacking. Despite the huge expenditure put into schools and heroic work by many teachers we don't actually change the order of children from the level at which they enter. The skills base of all children goes up but the differences between them are not actually narrowing."
Neil Wilson, head of Benchill Primary and the Newall Green High School in Wythenshawe, Manchester, said the damage was done by the time children were just three and that white working class children were most affected. It is not that families cannot speak English properly, but that parents do not bother to speak to their children.
Mr Wilson said: "A significant majority know their names when they come to the school but some do not. It is a communication issue at home." He urged the Government to spend more money on speech and language in schools: "This is the Holy Grail of breaking barriers of under-achievement and disaffection."
Laura Smith of The Communication Trust, a charity studying children's language skills, said:
"We know that, particularly in socially deprived parts of the country, 50% of children aged four and a half and five arrive at infant school with poor communication skills. One of the first things a teacher says to a child starting school is: 'Go and put your coat on the hook or peg', but many children don't know what a hook or peg are."
Jean Gross, the Government's communication champion, confirmed the problem and said, based on anecdotal evidence, it was 'getting worse'. She added: "I met a young mum who said of her two-year-old 'he doesn't speak to me so I don't speak to him'."
The trend follows Government figures showing almost 20% of children aged five — more than 100,000 — fail to meet the expected level of speech for their age. A recent study showed that poor parenting leaves half of children unprepared for school. Neuro-psychologist Sally Goddard Blythe found 48% of five-year-olds do not have the motor skills to hold a pencil.