Government figures obtained by the Today programme show that thousands of boys start secondary school only able to reach the reading standard of seven-year-olds or below.
"We believe that we need to make a series of changes, to focus to ensure that children are learning to read," Education Secretary Michael Gove told the programme.
These include additional resources for poorer children, systematic synthetic phonics training for teachers and a reading "MOT" for 6-year-olds.
But he also said that he would be willing to sack head teachers if their schools were failing on literacy.
"We want to ensure that those schools where children are not being taught to read are tackled," he said.
"If you do not get a child reading by the time that they leave primary school, the curriculum is a closed book to them."
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