Reception teachers are failing three to five-year-olds by focusing too on playing and not enough on reading, writing and maths, a new Ofsted report has concluded.
The majority of children in their first year of education do not know how to sit correctly at a table or grip a pencil, the report titled 'Bold Beginnings' warned.
Ofsted found that a third of three to five-year-olds do not have the basic knowledge and understanding they need after completing their first year at school.
The report found that children from a poorer background are "far worse off", with nearly half failing to gain the necessary skills in Reception.
"For too many children, the Reception Year is far from successful," the report said. "It is a false start and may predispose them to years of catching up rather than forging ahead.
Headteachers told Ofsted that some newly qualified teachers choose to focus on "play-based pedagogy" and "child-initiated learning" rather than teaching under-fives how to read and write.
Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman said that reading should be "at the heart of" the Reception curriculum.
"The best schools know how to design their curriculum so that children's learning and development sets them up well for the rest of their schooling," she said. "It is important that in the Reception classroom young children hear new vocabulary and have the opportunity to practise new words and phrases."
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of National Association of Head Teachers, said the report should not leave parents feeling pessimistic about their children's education.
"Nine out of 10 primary schools are rated good or better by Ofsted. Overwhelmingly, the school system serves the youngest learners very well," he said. "This report should not cast unnecessary doubt on that record, undermining the good work done by early years professionals."