MORE than 1,700 pre-schoolers are cared for by substandard childminders and nurseries in Bradford, figures have revealed.

Experts say "woeful" underfunding and a recruitment and retention crisis have contributed to too many children receiving inappropriate levels of care and education at a crucial development stage.

At the end of March this year, at least 1,778 three and four-year-olds were being looked after by childcare providers in Bradford rated "inadequate" or "requiring improvement", figures from the education watchdog show.

They include 457 children attending early years settings that received the lowest possible Ofsted grading of "inadequate".

It means 11 per cent of the three and four-year-olds who have places at Government-funded facilities in Bradford were cared for by negatively-rated institutions or childminders.

The largest proportion of children their age (64 per cent) attend settings inspectors rated "good" while 20 per cent enjoy "outstanding" care in the area.

In addition to those, there are other youngsters attending settings that do not currently have an Ofsted rating.

The figures cover all providers that receive funding giving children of that age 15 free hours of care and early education for up to 38 weeks a year. They include 2,948 children of working families, who are entitled to an additional 15 hours under the Government's tax-free childcare scheme.

Families can use their allocation of hours at providers including childminders, private and school nurseries and pre-schools.

A district MP has called for more funding for childminding and nursery services in Bradford.

Bradford East MP Imran Hussain said: "Early years education has time and time again been proven as crucial not only to a child’s education, but to their whole lives, and these figures which show that over one in 10 children across Bradford are being looked after by providers that have been rated poorly by Ofsted are deeply alarming.

“However, over the last decade, childcare has been neglected by this Government who have left many providers underfunded and struggling to cope, and whilst Ministers like to boast of increasing investment, they have instead overseen a colossal funding gap that stands at over £600 million according to the Early Years Alliance.

“The Government must recognise the immense damage that their underfunding is doing to the early years sector and to children’s life chances, and they must back Labour’s plans for a proper plan to rebuild the 'essential infrastructure' of the childcare sector to ensure that every provider across Bradford can improve to be rated as Outstanding.”

A Bradford Council spokesman said: "Good quality care and education in the early years is essential for all children.

“Across Bradford district the vast majority of children attend good or outstanding childcare provision.

“All private, voluntary and independent sector (PVI) providers are supported by Bradford Council and where required are supported to have a robust improvement plan in place to support achieving a good or outstanding Ofsted outcome at inspection.

“When a PVI provider is graded inadequate by Ofsted, access to funding is removed. When a provider is graded requires improvement, access to two-year old funding is removed, however, the provider can still offer places to fee-paying parents and parents have the right to decide if they wish to place their child/ren within a particular setting.

“We cannot stop fee-paying parents choosing providers that we do not fund, however, we work hard and are committed to ensuring that families in the Bradford District have access to high-quality childcare provision.”

Across England, the vast majority of children attended "good" or "outstanding" facilities in March but there were more than 71,000 cared for in settings that "require improvement" and over 21,500 looked after by "inadequate" providers.

Ofsted's Gill Jones said the majority of nurseries and childminders were doing a brilliant job, but added: "There are still too many children attending provision that isn't good enough.

"The early years are absolutely crucial to children’s learning, development and care, and we want to see every child get the best start in life."

A Department for Education spokesperson said there had been unprecedented investment into childcare nationally over the past decade.

She added: “Standards remain high, with 96 per cent of childcare providers rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.

"It’s testament to the dedication and hard work of early years professionals, which we have seen during this period of uncertainty.”