Children experiencing attention difficulties have documented cognitive deficits in working memory (WM), response inhibition and dual tasks. Recent evidence suggests however that these same cognitive processes are also closely associated with reading acquisition. This paper therefore explores whether these variables predicted attention difficulties or reading among 123 children with and without significant attention problems sampled from the school population. Children were screened using current WM and attention task measures. Three factors explained variance in WM and attention tasks. Response inhibition tasks loaded mainly with central executive measures, but a dual processing task loaded with the visual-spatial WM measures. Phonological loop measures loaded independently of attention measures. After controls for age, IQ and attention-group membership, phonological loop and ‘central processing’ measures both predicted reading ability. A ‘visual memory/dual-task’ factor predicted attention group membership after controls for age, IQ and reading ability. Results thus suggest that some of the processes previously assumed to be predictive of attention problems may reflect processes involved in reading acquisition. Visual memory and dual-task functioning are, however, purer indices of cognitive difficulty in children experiencing attention problems.