Poor parenting is to blame for a rise in the number of children starting school unfit for the demands of compulsory education, according to a senior government official.
Dr Elizabeth Sidwell, the Schools Commissioner, said many children from workless households struggled to even make it into school.
Dr Elizabeth Sidwell, the Schools Commissioner, said growing numbers of infants were unable to cope with lessons because of a lack of support in the home.
She called for the creation of a “five-a-day” guide to give parents step-by-step advice on how to raise their sons and daughters.
Families should be told to get their children up in the morning, give them breakfast, get them to school, engage in proper conversation and read together on a daily basis, she said.
Dr Sidwell also suggested that too many pupils were being let down by weak primary schools who fail to ensure enough children leave at 11 with a proper grasp of English and maths.
In a speech, she said private schools should help “sort out” underperforming primaries by sponsoring state-funded academies for pupils aged under-11.
The comments come amid continuing concerns over standards of state education in England.
Last year, 1,310 primaries fell short of Government targets in the three-Rs and 150 have been below basic benchmarks for at least five years.
Pupil performance is also strongly linked to household income. More than half of 11-year-olds eligible for free school meals failed to reach good standards in the basics last year compared with three-in-10 of their wealthier classmates.
Speaking to the Forum of Independent Day Schools in central London, Dr Sidwell said: “How can we get those children to come to school, ready for school, at five? Even the outstanding primaries tell me children, at five, are coming in with lower and lower ability. It is not a good situation that we are in.”
She said that 1.9m children were currently living in “workless households” and too many of these pupils failed to make it into school at all.
"When parents are unemployed, there is a high correlation with their children not doing very well… largely because their children don’t come to school," she said. "If your parents are lying in bed and don’t have to get up for work, it is really difficult to get the child up for school on time."
Dr Sidwell said parents needed a “five-a-day” guide – modelled on the push to get people to eat five pieces of fruit or vegetables – to help them to get children ready for school.
Mothers and fathers should be told to “get up in the morning, give your child breakfast, get them to school on time, read with them every day and talk to them”, said Dr Sidwell, the former chief executive of the Haberdashers' Aske's Federation, which runs a series of academy schools in the south-east.
The Schools Commissioner is currently responsible for helping to drive the Coalition's academies and free schools programmes within the Department for Education.
Speaking on Tuesday, she said that too many pupils were “not secure in reading and writing when they go to secondary school” because of poor standards of primary education.
Dr Sidwell urged private schools to help sponsor and run failing primaries, adding: “Primary is a real need. How can we help these primary schools because the situation is really difficult? I need sponsors of primary schools.”
The comments come despite warnings from teaching unions that they will take strike action at any primary pulled out of local authority control and turned into an academy under the leadership of a private sponsor.
In further comments, Dr Sidwell also endorsed the use of lottery-style admissions procedures in which applicants are picked out at random to break the middle-class stranglehold on places.
She said one of her former schools used the system and parents supported it because of the influence of the National Lottery.
“Parents know about the lottery,” she said. “They play it every week, often. They understand it’s a chance and they are happy with that. I never had any problem with that one.”