NURSERY workers feel they are at breaking point as figures show three quarters are regularly stressed.

Emma Cook, deputy manager of One World Nursery in Lewes Road, Brighton, said previous governments have not valued early-years teachers.

The 53-year-old is worried workers are not attracted to child care because of low pay and high stress.

“Our industry is one of those where people work because they love it,” she said.

“But that also means it’s easier to take advantage of them.

“We’re very underpaid. You get more money working for Tesco than working for children.”

Ms Cook, who has managed One World for 11 years, said nurseries are not achieving the attention they deserve.

“A lot of research has been done on how important nurseries are,” she said.

“Every government of the past few decades knows early years education is the foundation stage of development.

“You can’t build a house without a foundation.

“Nursery workers should be regarded and respected in the same way as teachers are.”

Ms Cook said more needs to be done to ensure managers and childcare workers are better qualified.

“Most managers have a level three qualification which is equivalent to an A-level,” she said.

“Really we should be aiming for managers to be university graduates or even post-graduates.”

But for many, running a nursery has become financially risky.

Rebecca Swindells, co-manager of the Blue Door Nursery in Seaford, said businesses like hers desperately need government investment.

“Currently our outgoing costs are spiralling and the inadequate funding levels paid by the current Government have created an extremely worrying time for us all in the sector,” she said.

“Children with special educational needs are a particular concern for me.

“Referral times are lengthy, support services offered by local authorities are stretched to breaking point and consequently children, their parents and nursery staff suffer.

“At the moment the referral-to-support process takes much too long, leaving parents and carers, as well as nursery staff, without the help they need.”

“A lot of people are put off opening nurseries because of finances,” Ms Cook added.

“Because of Government-imposed ratios, nurseries have to have a certain amount of staff per child. A lot of places can’t afford that.”

Dr Helen Edwards, co-founder of childcare tech firm Tapestry, said all parties must take child care seriously in the December General Election.

“The election promises from all parties are about increasing free access to child care,” she said.

“We want to send a message to all those campaigning in the General Election that high quality early years provision is a right for all young children.

“The focus on funding to support parents and families means that the importance of valuing the professional development of early years staff is at risk of being overlooked.”