Early years teachers work to inspire, excite and nurture children aged 0-5 years through a crucial stage of their development

As an early years teacher (EYT), your aim is to motivate children and use resources imaginatively to help them learn up to the age of 5 years. You'll provide a safe and secure environment for them to develop their social and communication skills, while recording observations and summarising their achievements.

As a result of your training, you'll achieve early years teacher status (EYTS) and with this you can work as an EYT within private, voluntary or independent (PVI) settings such as day nurseries, preschools and playgroups. You could also work within the reception year/early years foundation stage (EYFS) of an independent school, academy or free school.

It is worth noting that if you want to work in a local authority maintained school as an early years teacher, you'll need to have qualified teacher status (QTS) which is a different qualification to EYTS. If you have EYTS you can still work in a maintained school but you cannot lead a class on your own and instead would be in a position such as a higher level teaching assistant or cover teacher. For information on working as a teacher in a maintained school see primary school teacher.

It's important that the activities you plan and carry out in any setting meet the requirements of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) in England. For early years standards in Scotland, see The Early Years Framework, for Wales, see Education and skills and for Northern Ireland, see Early Years Education.

Responsibilities

As an early years teacher, you'll need to:

  • motivate and stimulate a child's learning abilities, often encouraging learning through experience
  • provide pastoral care and support to children within 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 setting
  • attend staff meetings and staff training days
  • keep up to date with changes in the curriculum and developments in best practice.

Salary

  • Pay and conditions are set by individual employers, so vary depending on the setting in which you work.
  • Starting salaries can be in the region of £16,000 to £18,000 although some employers may offer more.
  • After gaining experience and expertise, you may be able to achieve salaries of £22,000 to £36,000. Roles in this bracket will often include supervisory or management duties.
  • At the moment, it is difficult to achieve salaries at the same levels as those with qualified teacher status (QTS) as pay is not regulated in the same way. Keep up to date with education press and news from the Department for Education (DfE) in case there are any changes or consultations that relate to this.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Hours vary depending on your setting and can be up to 40 hours a week. Nurseries can be open from 7.30am until 6.30pm, so it's likely you'll need to cover shifts within that period. Work within a school would typically cover the hours of around 8.30am to 3.30/4pm.

Extra hours may be required for staff meetings, inspections and parent consultations. Depending on the setting in which you work, you may also need to spend additional time on planning and preparation for activities or lessons.

Part-time hours, temporary work, career break opportunities and job shares are all available. It is also possible to get supply teaching or bank staff roles.

What to expect

  • You'll work as part of a team with other childcare professionals. These can vary depending on the setting but include nursery practitioners and teaching assistants. The paperwork involved in the job can often mean some evening and weekend work at home.
  • 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.
  • Positions are available throughout the UK, although there are more opportunities in towns and cities.
  • Within a nursery setting you'll typically be allocated a room and age range, e.g. toddler, pre-school, etc. although you could be moved around as needed for cover. In a school you'll usually be based in your own classroom.
  • Men are currently under-represented within early years provision. This is widely recognised and there are campaigns in place both to encourage more men to consider it as a career and to help settings recruit more men to the roles. For example, see Men in the Early Years (MITEY). This is a free-to-join network dedicated to gender-diversifying the early years workforce. It publishes resources to help employers become more male-friendly and has a jobs board where those which have signed the MITEY Charter can advertise their vacancies.
  • Travel during the working day is rare, except to attend occasional home visits or to go on school trips. Absence from home overnight and overseas work or travel are unlikely.

Qualifications

To become an early years teacher, you'll need to gain early years teacher status (EYTS).

There are a number of Early Years Initial Teacher Training (EYITT) programmes available that lead to EYTS:

  • undergraduate entry - a full-time degree in an early childhood-related subject, taking three to four years to complete. Check the course leads to EYTS before applying. Tuition fee loans are available.
  • graduate entry - typically a 12-month, full-time year of study with work placements, for those with an undergraduate degree but limited experience of working with children. Course titles vary so check they lead to EYTS. A £7,000 grant is available to cover course fees, and there are a number of bursaries available.
  • graduate employment-based - a part-time route taking one year to complete, for graduates who already work in an early years setting but need further training to show they meet the Teachers' Standards (early years). Funding of £14,000 is available, covering course fees of up to £7,000 plus £7,000 towards costs incurred by your employer.
  • 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.

EYITT programmes are available either via university or school-led training routes. Applications are made directly to accredited providers. For all programmes you'll need at least a grade C/4 GCSE (or equivalent) in English, mathematics and science, as well as two or three A-levels. For postgraduates programmes, you'll also need an undergraduate degree, usually at a 2.2 or higher.

You'll also need to pass an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check in England and Wales, or the equivalent check in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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

EYTS is a specialist qualification that allows you to work with children up to five years old only. If you want to teach at primary level, you will need qualified teacher status (QTS), rather than EYTS. For more information see, primary school teacher.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent communication and listening skills
  • good organisational skills to plan the day and respond to the different needs of the children you teach
  • 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, and creative skills such as music, dance, drama, arts and crafts will come in useful.

Work experience

Course providers typically ask for relevant work experience with children 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 children's development. It's a good idea to visit nurseries and schools to observe and talk to early years teachers and that could also lead to work experience opportunities.

If you're applying for the graduate employment-based route, you'll need to be working in an early years setting or school that offers the EYFS and supports your application.

Find more advice on volunteering in schools.

Employers

As an early years teacher you can find work in:

  • private, voluntary and independent (PVI) early years settings, such as nurseries and preschools
  • academies, free schools and independent schools in the reception classes
  • children's centres and day-care facilities.

If you want to work as a class teacher in a local authority maintained school, you’ll need to have qualified teacher status (QTS), which is different from EYTS. You could still find work within a maintained school but it would be in a role such as a cover teacher or higher level teaching assistant (HLTA).

Look for job vacancies at:

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

It's 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.

Discover how to structure a teaching CV.

Professional development

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

You'll need to make sure that your knowledge and skills relating to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) remain up to date throughout your career. The EYFS sets out the requirements for children's learning and development, their early learning goals, assessments, safeguarding and welfare.

Membership of relevant organisations can provide access to a range of benefits, including continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities, resources and advice. These include:

CPD activities include:

  • attending training courses and webinars
  • reading the education press and other relevant publications
  • attending events and conferences on early years themes
  • researching early years resources to help develop your work.

You'll probably also receive regular in-house training from the nursery or school you work for.

Courses in business management and leadership skills may be helpful if you're looking to move into a management role.

Career prospects

Once you've gained experience as an early years teacher, there may be opportunities to move into a management role. This could be a staff supervisory role or managing a nursery or group of nurseries. Some early years teachers choose to go on to open their own nursery.

With additional qualifications and experience, it's possible to specialise in certain areas, such as special educational needs (SEN).

You can do further training to achieve qualified teacher status (QTS) in order to work as a primary school teacher or secondary school teacher or to work as an early years teacher in a maintained school. Different training routes are available, with many graduate options taking one year to complete. With further training, it may also be possible to become a play therapist.

Working as an early years teacher can also lead to local authority advisory roles or into roles involving the mentoring and assessing of early years teachers and other trainees.

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