MORE than 600 pre-schoolers are cared for by substandard childminders and nurseries in Cumbria, figures show.

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, at least 679 three and four-year-olds were being looked after by childcare providers in Cumbria rated "inadequate" or "requiring improvement", figures from the education watchdog show.

They include 104 children attending early years settings that received the lowest possible Ofsted grading of "inadequate".

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

The largest proportion of children their age (70 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 3,590 children of working families, who are entitled to an additional 15 hours under the Government's tax-free childcare scheme.