All nurseries should have a qualified teacher to help children develop key skills like speech and language, a leading charity has said.

Save The Children warned toddlers could be set back for decades by a failure to properly stimulate their brains during nursery years.

The charity said last year almost 130,000 children in England were falling behind with language before they reached school, with many parents seemingly unaware of the importance of pre-school development.

A survey by the charity found 47% of parents hoped their child would know 100 words by their third birthday – half the recommended amount.

“Toddler’s brains are like sponges, absorbing knowledge and making new connections faster than any other time in life,” said Save The Children’s director of UK poverty Gareth Jenkins.

“We’ve got to challenge the misconception that learning can wait for school, as, if a child starts their first day at school behind, they tend to stay behind.

Sam Gyimah, the education and childcare minister, said the Government was making “a significant investment in the early years sector”.