More than one in four children are already falling behind by the age of five, according to official figures.
Boys are more likely to be struggling with basic maths, literacy as well as skills such as language, after a year of schooling, statistics published by the Department for Education (DfE) show.
Nursery leaders said research has shown that children who attend high-quality nurseries have been skills in areas such as communication as they called on government to invest in the sector.
The latest figures show that 71.8% of children in England are achieving a good level of development at age five, meaning that 28.2% are not reaching this threshold.
This is up 0.3 percentage points on last year.
A good level of development means that children are reaching the expected level in five “areas of learning” in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) – sometimes dubbed the “nappy curriculum”.
These areas are communication and language, physical development, personal, social and emotional development, literacy and maths.
The EYFS is made up of 17 goals, in a total of seven areas of learning. The extra two are understanding the world and expressive arts and design.
Overall, 70.7% of children are reaching the expected level in all 17 EYFS goals.
A breakdown shows that 14.6% of youngsters are struggling with speaking – including expressing themselves and talking about events in different tenses.
Nearly one in four (23.1%) struggling with reading and understanding simple sentences, while a a slightly higher proportion (26.3%) have difficulty with writing simple sentences.
Around one in five (20.2%) are not reaching the expected standard in numbers, meaning they have difficult with counting to 20 and doing simple sums, while just under a fifth (18.5%) had difficulty with shapes, space and measurements.
And around one in 12 (12.7%) struggled with managing feelings and behaviour.
Girls outperformed boys in all areas of the EYFS.
The biggest gap was in writing (12.2 percentage points) while the smallest was in technology (3.1 percentage points).
Three and four year-olds, as well as disadvantaged two-year-olds in England are eligible for up to 30 hours of free childcare, which is government-funded.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) said: “High quality nurseries must be supported to be sustainable in all areas, but especially in those where the majority of children only access funded hours.
“This must mean that funding has to reflect increasing staffing and business costs.
“Research shows that children who attend high quality nurseries have better communication and social skills too, so the government must invest sufficiently in childcare to make sure that early years education is accessible for all children.”