Academics at the University of Oxford have also found that nurseries in the private, voluntary and independent (PVI) sectors in disadvantaged areas tend to provide a lower standard of childcare than state-maintained schools in the same areas.
Researchers found the "quality gap" between advantaged and disadvantaged three- and four-year-olds to be widest in relation to how nurseries and schools support the development of children’s language skills.
In their report, Quality and Inequality: Do three- and four-year-olds in deprived areas experience lower quality early years provision?, the researchers attribute the difference in quality to the number of graduates working in settings.
According to the report, published by the Nuffield Foundation, graduate teachers lead all school-based classes but less than half of all PVI nurseries employ a graduate and only eight per cent employ more than one.
Furthermore, the researchers found the "quality gap" between PVI nurseries and school-based provision in disadvantaged areas to be much narrower when nurseries had an early years graduate on the staff.
As a result, the report recommends that PVI nurseries in the poorest areas use the new early years pupil premium funding, announced by the government in March, to employ graduates in a bid to improve the quality of provision.
The report also backs the government’s teaching schools initiative, which encourages struggling settings to form partnerships with high-performing schools in a bid to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children.
Sandra Mathers, lead author of the report, said early years graduates are key to supporting the development of young children.
She said: “This research highlights the challenges involved in ensuring that the children who most need good-quality early years provision actually receive it.
“It is vital that we equip nurseries and pre-schools with the tools and support they need to help disadvantaged children overcome the odds and reach their full potential.”
Teresa Williams, director of social research and policy at the Nuffield Foundation, added: “These findings show that socio-economic disadvantage is mirrored in the quality of early years provision, meaning children from poorer backgrounds lose out again.
“We would like to see more work done on the link between quality and graduate qualifications, specifically how we can best up-skill the early years workforce and ensure that more highly qualified staff are more appropriately deployed.”