If you think you've got what it takes to inspire, excite and nurture children through a crucial stage of their development, consider becoming an early years teacher (EYT)

As an EYT, you'll work with children aged 0-5 in various settings such as nurseries, preschools and reception classes. It's important that the activities you plan and carry out meet the requirements of the early years foundation stage (EYFS).

Your aim is to motivate children and imaginatively use resources to help them learn. You'll provide a safe and secure environment for them to develop their social and communication skills, while recording observations and summarising their achievements.

You should be focused on the development of the child to prepare them for a successful transition to primary school.

Responsibilities

As an early years teacher, you'll be concerned with helping children to achieve early learning goals. You'll need to:

  • motivate and stimulate a child's learning abilities, often encouraging learning through experience
  • provide pastoral care and support to children and give them with a secure learning environment
  • assist with the development of a child's personal, social, language and physical coordination abilities
  • develop and produce visual aids and teaching resources
  • encourage mathematical and creative development through stories, songs, games, drawing and imaginative play
  • help children develop curiosity and knowledge
  • work with others, including teaching assistants and nursery nurses as well as volunteer helpers, to plan and coordinate work both indoors and outdoors
  • share knowledge gained with other practitioners and build and maintain relationships with parents
  • observe, assess and record each child's progress
  • ensure the health and safety of children and staff is maintained during all activities, both inside and outside the nursery or school
  • keep up to date with changes in the curriculum and developments in best practice.

Salary

  • Pay and conditions are set by individual employers, so will vary depending on the setting in which you work.
  • Starting salaries will be in the region of £16,000 to £18,000.
  • After gaining experience and expertise, you may be able to achieve salaries of £22,000 to £30,000. Roles in this bracket will often include supervisory or management duties.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Hours vary depending on your setting. Nurseries can be open from 7.30am until 6.30pm, so it's likely you'll need to cover shifts within that period. A typical school day runs from 9am to 3.30pm, but if you're working in a school you'll start earlier than 9am to prepare and set up activities for the day.

Extra hours may be required for staff meetings, inspections and parent consultations.

Part-time, temporary work and career break opportunities are available. Job shares are also possible.

What to expect

  • You will work as part of a team with other childcare professionals, particularly nursery nurses. The paperwork involved in the job can often mean some evening and weekend work at home.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes possible as a supply teacher or as a freelance early years consultant.
  • The constant need for energy, ideas and creativity, as well as the necessary paperwork, can affect your home life, as can activities outside of work hours.
  • Travel within the working day is rare, except to attend occasional home visits. Absences from home overnight and overseas work or travel are unlikely.

Qualifications

To become an early years teacher, you will need to gain early years teacher status (EYTS). To gain EYTS, you will need to complete an early years initial teacher training (EYITT) course.

There are several training routes available:

  • undergraduate entry - a full-time degree in an early childhood-related subject, taking three to four years to complete and leading to EYTS.
  • graduate entry - typically a year of full-time study for those with an undergraduate degree but limited experience of working with children. Example qualifications are the PGCE Early Years and the PG Cert Early Years, both giving EYTS.
  • graduate employment-based - a part-time route taking one year to complete, for graduates who work in an early years setting but need further training to show they meet the Teachers' Standards (Early Years).
  • School Direct (Early Years) graduate entry - training is provided by a group of schools or nurseries, in return for your employment once you have successfully gained EYTS.
  • assessment only - this self-funded route is ideal for graduates with experience of working with children from birth to age five, who meet the Teachers' Standards (Early Years) with no need for further training. This assessment usually takes three months to complete.

To find out which institutions offer relevant courses, search for postgraduate courses in early years.

For more details of approved course providers and information on available funding see Get into Teaching - Become an early years teacher.

For information on early years teaching in Scotland and Northern Ireland see:

Skills

For teaching roles you will need to show:

  • a respect and fondness for children
  • excellent communication and listening skills
  • good organisational skills to plan the children's day and respond to children's different needs
  • the ability to inspire and enthuse young children
  • energy, resourcefulness, responsibility, patience and a caring nature
  • an understanding of the needs and feelings of children
  • ability to work independently with children, as well as being able to work in the wider nursery/school team
  • a sense of humour and the ability to keep things in perspective.

You'll also need stamina to keep up with the needs and energy of a large group of young, lively children. Creative skills such as music, dance, drama, arts and crafts are advantageous.

Work experience

Pre-entry work experience with children of a relevant age is typically required by course providers and it's often preferred that you've undertaken this in a school or nursery environment.

Other relevant experience includes volunteering at a local playgroup or play scheme or work that shows you've provided care and supported development. It's a good idea to visit nurseries and schools to observe and talk to early years teachers.

Find more advice on volunteering in schools.

Employers

As an early years teacher, you can find work in:

  • maintained and independent nurseries
  • academies, free schools and independent schools in the reception classes
  • children centres
  • early excellence centres.

Jobs for early years teachers may be limited in some nurseries as it is not a requirement to have EYTS to work in that setting. This means lower paid positions, such as nursery nurses and non-graduate roles, may be more readily available.

It's not possible to work in maintained schools as an early years teacher as to do this you'd be expected to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), which requires further training.

Look for job vacancies at:

Teacher recruitment agencies, such as Protocol Education, feature opportunities for early years teachers.

It is worth contacting the careers service at the institution where you gained your EYTS to see if they have details of any relevant vacancies or if they have contacts for potential employers.

Professional development

As an early years teacher, you'll need to consistently make sure that your knowledge and skills relating to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) are up to date. The EYFS sets out the requirements for children's learning and development, their early learning goals, assessments, safeguarding and welfare.

You need to make sure your work as an early years teacher covers this. Continuing professional development (CPD) while you're working can help.

Certain organisations provide CPD opportunities as well as additional benefits to members such as:

  • webinars and training
  • relevant publications
  • access to early years resources
  • events and conferences on early years themes
  • help with career progression

Relevant organisations include:

It's likely that the nursery or school in which you work will also deliver training on a regular basis.

Career prospects

Once you have gained experience as an early years teacher, you may decide to move into more advanced roles, such as those at management level. This could include staff supervisory work or managing a nursery or group of nurseries. Courses in business management and leadership skills will help with this.

It's also possible to specialise in certain areas, such as special educational needs (SEN), but to do so you'll be required to hold additional qualifications and experience.

If you want to begin teaching in a maintained school, or would like to teach older children (from age 5 upwards), you'll need to gain further qualifications in order to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). Different training routes are available, with many graduate options taking one year to complete. Find out how to become a primary school teacher or secondary school teacher.

It is generally up to you to take responsibility for your own development, although this is normally discussed with your immediate line manager at annual performance appraisals.

You could also choose to move into other areas such as working as an inspector for Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted), as a local authority early years advisory teacher or inspector, or delivering teacher training.