On the day of Charles Dickens' 200th birthday, UK Schools Minister Nick Gibb said that the illiteracy rates in UK schools are "still shadows of Charles Dickens's world in our own".
Gibb remarked that sustained technological and social advances had failed to eradicate Victorian-style reading and writing problems, particularly in the poorest areas, writes Graeme Paton at the Telegraph.
New figures show that one in six children leaving primary school struggle to read, while one in 10 of those have a reading ability no better than the average seven-year-old. Figures also indicate that six in 10 white boys from the poorest backgrounds are still unable to read properly by the age of 14.
There are "still shadows of Dickens's world in our own, with literacy problems remaining asymmetric and heavily orientated towards the poorest in our communities.
"We need – if you'll forgive the Dickens pun – much greater expectations of children in reading."
Gibb wants to see the standards at all key stage levels raised and to require children to read "more complex" texts by authors such as Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Roald Dahl before they leave primary school, writes Paton.
And on the anniversary of the author's birthday, Gibb has called for more pupils to be expected to read at least one of Dickens classic novels while they're in secondary education.
The issue of variety in the English Literature curriculum has been longstanding. More than 90 per cent of the answers in today's GCSE English literature exams are on the same three novels – Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Just one in 200 pupils study a book written before 1900, writes Paton.
The "expected level" of literacy is too low, says Gibb – who wants to see more ambitious targets set.
This comes after the announcement that almost half of major employers in the UK are dissatisfied with levels of English among school leavers, said a new survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
John Cridland, director general of the CBI, said:
"It's alarming that a significant number of employers have concerns about the basic skills of school and college leavers.
"Companies do not expect schools and colleges to produce âjob-ready' young people, but having a solid foundation in basic skills such as literacy and numeracy is fundamental for work."