More than half of youngsters from disadvantaged St Helens families are not hitting attainment targets in early years education, a report has found.
Inspectors from children’s watchdog Ofsted assessed schools and other care facilities catering for children up to the age of five.
Only 43 per cent of those eligible for free schools meals were not falling behind their peers in the borough, according to the report.
Youngsters in St Helens compared favourably though to many other areas across the country and were ranked in the top 20.
A spokesman for the council said: “We have worked hard to raise the awareness of our colleagues of the most vulnerable children and the need to monitor and track their progress carefully.
“The Early Years team holds regular meetings for nursery and reception practitioners, in which assessment is the focus, and they are asked to return to us regular information about the progress of children in their classes, especially the most vulnerable.
“Credit must go primarily to the excellent work carried out in our primary school reception classes in making the most of children’s first year in compulsory schooling.”
The report compared assessments of the “three prime areas: communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development plus literacy and mathematics targets.”
It added “only a little more than a third of children from low income backgrounds reached a good level of development. In some local areas, this was less than a fifth.
The report also highlighted that parents are often faced with tough choices about early years providers because “information that is available to every parent is not clear and simple enough.”
The only North West authority ranked above St Helens is Knowsley (44 per cent).
Nearby Wigan and Warrington (18) were the two lowest ranked.