Reception-class teachers will work with qualified child-care workers to ensure at least one adult for every 15 children, education minister Margaret Hodge announced on Monday.
Government grants of pound;30 million will allow the 60 most deprived local authorities to take on 3,000 extra staff by 2001, benefiting more than 75,000 children.
The 60 authorities have the highest numbers of teenage pregnancies and low birth weight babies in the country. They will have to bear 25 per cent of the cost themselves.
Ms Hodge said: "There has been a great deal of concern that one in four four-year-olds is receiving early-years education in reception classes with ratios of one adult to 30 or so children. This announcement is going to move towards a ratio of one adult to 15 children."
Ms Hodge said the proposals took the first step towards creating a "level playing-field" for private, voluntary and local authority early-years providers.
Currently, different types of nurseries can operate with very different adult-child ratios. Private and voluntary providers must have one adult for every eight children whereas council nursery classes need only have one adult per 13 children.
However, a pilot of 50 private and voluntary nurseries is to be allowed to operate under the LEA ratio if they employ qualified teachers.
The preliminary results of research commissioned by the previous government suggested that the qualifications of pre-school providers was more important than adult-child ratios.
But pre-school providers raised concern that the lower???? ratios damage high-quality nurseries.
Margaret Lochrie, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said:
"If adult-to-pupil ratios of one to 13 were to become reality for three-year-olds, that would be a tremendous concern.
"Whatever the qualifications of teachers, we are talking about very young children who need a lot of personal attention."