More children are reaching the standards expected of them in the three Rs by the time they leave primary school, new figures show.
But tens of thousands of youngsters are still failing to achieve the expected level in reading, writing and maths.
The results of this year's national curriculum tests - known as Sats - show a four percentage point improvement in the proportion of 11-year-olds gaining at least a Level 4 - the standard expected of the age group, in the basics.
Overall, 79% of youngsters achieved this level or higher in all three of the subjects tested, up from 75% a year ago.
This means that just over a fifth (21%) - around 117,000 pupils - did not reach this standard.
School Reform Minister Nick Gibb welcomed the improvement in results, and said the Government had set "unashamedly high expectations" for all children.
The new figures show that 89% of children gained at least a Level 4 on reading, up from 86% in 2013, while in writing - which is marked by teachers - 85% of youngsters reached this threshold, up two percentage points on last year.
In maths, the rise was smaller, with 86% of youngsters achieving Level 4 or above, up from 85% last year.
And in the spelling, punctuation and grammar test, which was introduced last year, just over three quarters (76%) achieved the expected standard, up from 74% in 2013.
The tests were taken by around 557,400 11-year-olds in England.
Mr Gibb said that around 80,000 more children were reaching Level 4 in reading, writing and maths, than five years ago, allowing them to start secondary school secure in the basics and able to move on to more complex subjects.
" It means in the long term these children stand a far better chance of winning a place at university, gaining an apprenticeship and securing good jobs," he said.
"We have set unashamedly high expectations for all children, introduced a new test in the basics of punctuation, spelling and grammar, and removed calculators from maths tests.
"Today's results show teachers and pupils have responded well to the higher standards our education reforms have demanded. Our education system is beginning to show the first fruits of our plan for education, helping to prepare young people for life in modern Britain. There is more to do but teachers and pupils deserve huge credit for such outstanding results."
The figures show that the gender divide has narrowed slightly this year, with boys closing in on girls.
Overall, 82% of girls achieved Level 4 or above in each of the tests, compared to 76% of boys - a gap of six percentage points.
Last year, there was a seven percentage-point gap.