Half of the nurseries in West Sussex do not have a qualified early years teacher on their staff – and fewer people are stepping up to be trained.
The figure was part of a report by Save the Children which highlighted a shortage of trained nursery teachers across the south east and called for the government to invest urgently in the sector.
The 50 per cent lacking a teacher in West Sussex compared to 52 per cent in East Sussex and 47 per cent in Surrey - but the figure was only 25 per cent in Brighton and Hove.
While recognising all nurseries had staff who were trained to care for children, Save the Children warned the lack of a teacher meant youngsters were 10 per cent less likely to meet the expected levels of development when starting school.
A spokesman said: “Children who start behind are also more likely to stay behind throughout their school years and beyond into their work lives.”
The number of people applying for nursery teaching roles in England dropped from 2,300 in 2014 to 860 last year, with poor salaries and a lack of promotion opportunities among the reasons for fall.
Gareth Jenkins, director of UK Poverty at Save the Children said: “It’s incredibly worrying that so many children in England are at risk of falling behind by the time they start school when we know they don’t have to be.
“As a country, we need to start recognising that if we want to give every child the best chance in life – no matter what their background – they must have the support they need to learn, grow and develop in the early years of their lives.
“Nurseries do an incredible job nurturing our children, but many are struggling to afford and recruit the qualified teachers they need to give children this support and support their workforce with more training and development.
“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 level of qualifications needed by early years staff is set by central government – but a spokesman for West Sussex County Council said its early years advisory staff offered advice and support to nurseries that did not have qualified teachers.
The spokesman said 98 per cent of the county’s nursery settings and 95 per cent of its childminders had been rated ‘good’ or better by Ofsted.
He added: “We provide bursaries to support childcare providers and individuals with the cost of study towards qualifications including to Early Years Teacher level.
“We have also provided a financial incentive for early years providers where they have staff that lead practice and who are graduates with a level 6 qualification.”
Clinical psychologist Dr Elizabeth Kilbey, from Channel Four’s Secret Life of Four Year Olds programme, said: “Having an early years teacher in a nursery can make all the difference to a child’s future. We know that during the early years a child’s brain is developing at its quickest rate – and that language and communication skills are the building blocks for everything else they will learn, including subjects like maths and sciences.
“But crucially, it also gives children the tools they need to build their self-esteem and confidence, and develop positive relationships with everyone around them.
“Sadly, so many nurseries are struggling to afford to hire qualified teachers, and until they can, children will continue to slip through the net.”
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