A chronic shortage of fully qualified teachers in England's private and voluntary nurseries is risking young children's education, warns a charity.

Last year more than a quarter of a million under-fives attended non-state nurseries without a qualified teacher, says a report by Save the Children.

Applications for early years teacher training have plummeted, leaving nurseries struggling, say the authors.

The government said staff quality was already good and continued to improve.

Contact with highly qualified staff is crucial to young children's development, says the report.

The researchers focused on privately run, voluntary and other independent childcare settings as opposed to state-run nurseries, which tend to be attached to primary schools and are more likely to employ qualified teachers.

They looked at three- and four-year-olds, 95% of whom attend some form of childcare each week.

Of the three-year-olds who do, 36% attend state-funded nurseries and 64% private or voluntary settings.

Of the four-year-olds, 80% are in maintained nurseries and 20% in independent childcare.

The charity found that children in independent nurseries without an early years teacher were almost 10% less likely to meet expected levels of development at five than children in nurseries with qualified teachers.

This leaves them struggling with basic skills such as speaking full sentences, using tenses and following simple instructions - and they are likely to remain behind throughout their school lives, with a knock-on effect on their employment prospects, the report says.

Pre-schoolers not in any form of childcare fare worse still and are less than half as likely to reach a good level of development than those in nurseries with qualified teachers, it says.

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