A  staff shortage of fully qualified teachers in England’s private and voluntary nurseries, described as ‘chronic’ by a leading children’s charity, is risking young children’s education, the BBC reports.

Over 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 dropped significantly, leaving nurseries struggling, say the report’s authors.

The researchers looked at 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 studied data on three- and four-year-olds, 95% of whom attend some form of childcare each week.

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

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

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.

These children struggle 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-school children not in any form of childcare fare much worse and are less than half as likely to reach a good level of development than those in nurseries with qualified teachers, it says.

The report, based on new analysis of official figures, also found that in the academic year to July 2016, half of all three- and four-year-olds had attended a childcare setting without a teacher who held a degree-level early years qualification working directly with them. This data excluded state-run nursery schools.

Overall, only 50 percent of independent nurseries in England employed a qualified teacher last year, says the report.

However, this statistic does not adjust for the regional differences in hiring qualified nursery teachers. In SUnderland, 86 percent of surveyed children had access to qualified teachers, compared to only 16 percent in the London Borough of Newham for example.

Save the Children now wants the government to invest in a qualified early years teacher for every nursery in England, starting with deprived areas including Blackpool, Oldham, Birmingham and Barking and Dagenham in east London. Commenting on the findings, Save the Children’s director of UK poverty, Gareth Jenkins.

If the government is serious about creating a country that works for everyone, it’s crucial we urgently invest in a qualified teacher for every nursery across the country, giving children the support they need to reach their full potential.”

The government however, was upbeat about the progress it had made in hiring of formally educated staff. Responding to the charity’s concerns, a Department for Education spokesman said:

“We want to continue to attract quality staff into the early years, including more trained graduates,”

“We are developing a workforce strategy that aims to remove the barriers to attracting, retaining and developing great people, and we will be investing a record £6bn in childcare by the end of this Parliament.”

According to the government, the percentage of full-time staff with the equivalent of at least A-levels had grown from 75% of 87% between 2008 and 2013, when the last figures were recorded.