Early years provision for children up to the age of 5 has improved in recent years, according to Ofsted, with 74 per cent of providers rated as good or better compared with 65 per cent three years ago.
The improvements have been made after the introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage in 2008, which sets out principles for the way staff work with children and a series of learning goals.
The early years sector compares well with the schools sector, where 71 per cent of providers are now judged to be good or better. But there are still variations between types of providers, and the gap in quality has widened, in part because qualifications have been aimed more at those working in nurseries.
Overall, preschools and nurseries are better than childminders at preparing children for school. Ofsted says there is a strong case for good and outstanding providers to operate as "hubs" for networks of childminders and weaker nurseries in their area.
But too many children in the UK are still entering school without the basic skills they need, according to the watchdog. Children from the poorest fifth of homes are on average 19 months behind pupils from the richest fifth of homes in the development of their vocabulary.