Early years teachers (EYTs) work with children up to the age of five in preschool settings and the foundation stage of primary schools

As an EYT, you'll work to inspire, excite and nurture children through a crucial stage of their development. Your aim is to motivate children and use resources imaginatively 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.

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

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 nursery or school
  • 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 are 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 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.

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'll 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 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 and leading to EYTS. 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.

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.

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.

Although you can work in a nursery or reception class in a local authority maintained school, you're not able to lead classes unless you have qualified teacher status (QTS), which is different from EYTS. However, there may be opportunities to work 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 wide 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. 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.