Fewer than one in 40 three and four-year-olds attend full-time nursery schools or classes, according to Government figures released this week.
Most local education authorities are putting their under-fives money into full-time school reception classes - a practice which has been subject to widespread criticism by early years specialists- and part-time nursery classes, the statistics show.
The January 1994 figures were given in a Parliamentary answer by education minister Eric Forth, in reply to Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking. He said that 22.9 per cent of children under five in England were in full-time reception classes and 20.4 per in part-time nursery classes in primary schools.
By contrast, 0.7 per cent of children were in full-time nursery schools, 2.1 in full-time nursery classes, 3.3 per cent in part-time nursery schools, and 2.2 in part-time reception classes.
Mr Forth reiterated in the Commons this week the Government's pledge to provide nursery places for all four-year-olds whose parents wanted one, but said there were no plans to extend the commitment to three-year-olds.
In response to another Labour party question, Mr Forth published an education authority league table showing a breakdown of how and where children under five are educated.
Ms Hodge, who is leading a Labour inquiry into under-fives' education, said: "If we are going to turn round children's life chances, we have to focus resources on early years. The figures show how bad we are on quantity and how bad we are on quality."