Too many nurseries are chaotically organised and failing to teach young children good manners, a Government minister has said.
Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss said many pre-school units needed a more structured approach and more teachers with a graduate-level education, in an interview with the Daily Mail.
She praised the French system for caring for youngsters, using a teacher-led daily routine which she said resulted in a calmer atmosphere in the classroom.
It comes days after Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said failing nurseries and pre-schools will face closure if they do not rapidly improve.
Mrs Truss, a 37-year-old mother of two, told the Mail the Government wanted children "to learn to listen to a teacher, learn to respect an instruction so that they are ready for school".
"This isn't about two-year-olds doing academic work - it's structured play which teaches children to be polite and considerate through activities which the teacher is clearly leading," she told the paper.
"At the moment fewer than one-third of nurseries employ graduate-level teachers and have structured, teacher-led sessions. We know that's very beneficial.
"What you notice in French nurseries is just how calm they are. All of their classes are structured and led by teachers. It's a requirement.
'They learn to socialise with each other, pay attention to the teacher and develop good manners, which is not the case in too many nurseries in Britain."
Under a major shake-up of early years inspections announced by Sir Michael last week, those nurseries that fail to raise their game will have their registration cancelled.
Sir Michael announced on Friday that from September, Ofsted will only consider a rating of good or outstanding to be acceptable for nurseries and pre-schools.
The satisfactory judgment will be scrapped and replaced by "requires improvement" - a change already made to school inspections in England.
Sir Michael also raised fresh concerns about qualifications among those working with babies and toddlers, saying it is an "absolute nonsense" that more exams are needed to work with animals than young children.
Mrs Truss also questioned the qualifications of nursery staff, telling the Mail: "Free-flow play is not compulsory, but there is a belief across lots of nurseries that it is.
"I have seen too many chaotic settings, where children are running around. There's no sense of purpose.
"In these settings where there aren't sufficiently qualified staff, and children are running around, we are not getting positive outcomes."