Provisional estimates for under-fives, released by the Government show 353,900 four-year-olds were in reception or infant classes in 1999 out of a total population of 629,393. By January this year, that number had risen to 355,800 - despite a drop in population to 610,202.
Pat Wills, chair of Early Education, said that the rise could be due to a move away from staggering school entry dates. "Many authorities always take children into reception classes in September of the year in which they are five. What is beginning to happen is that in other areas, some schools are taking children in early," she said.
* New rules on assessing children at the end of reception year could increase teacher workload, says the National Union of Teachers.
The foundation stage profile, which will sum up children's achievements at the end of their pre-schooling, will replace baseline assessment which teachers use to assess pupils at the start of Year 1.
NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy has written to Education Secretary Estelle Morris saying schools could end up doing both assessments.