Early years, or nursery teachers work in pre-school, nursery and reception classes with children aged between three and five. They plan and carry out activities in line with the requirements of the early years foundation stage (EYFS).

This involves developing work schemes and lessons plans to motivate children and imaginatively using resources to help them learn.

Early years teachers develop the social and communication skills of children and provide a safe and secure environment in which the child can learn. They build and maintain relationships with parents and guardians to further support pupils, as well as operate within multi-agency networks to ensure the correct support is available.

Early years teachers record observations and summarise the children's achievements. They focus on optimum child development and preparation for a successful transition to primary school education.

Responsibilities

Early years teachers teach all areas of the foundation stage, which is focused on helping children to achieve early learning goals. Work carried out includes:

  • motivating and stimulating children's learning abilities, often encouraging learning through experience;
  • providing pastoral care and support to children and providing them with a secure environment to learn;
  • developing and producing visual aids and teaching resources;
  • organising learning materials and resources and making imaginative use of resources;
  • assisting with the development of children's personal, social and language abilities;
  • supporting the development of children's basic skills, including physical coordination, speech and communication;
  • encouraging children's mathematical and creative development through stories, songs, games, drawing and imaginative play;
  • developing children's curiosity and knowledge;
  • working with others, including teaching assistants and nursery nurses as well as volunteer helpers, to plan and coordinate work both indoors and outdoors;
  • sharing knowledge gained with other practitioners and parents;
  • observing, assessing and recording each child's progress;
  • attending in-service training;
  • ensuring the health and safety of children and staff is maintained during all activities, both inside and outside the nursery or school;
  • keeping up to date with changes in the curriculum and developments in best practice.

Some early years teachers make home visits prior to a child starting nursery or school and, where appropriate, might also visit providers of pre-school care, such as day nurseries.

Salary

  • Salaries for newly qualified teachers (NQTs) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland start on the minimum rate of the main pay range which is £22,244. The pay range rises on an incremental basis up to £31,831.
  • Teachers in Scotland start on salaries of £21,867 and with experience can work up to salaries of £34,887.
  • After gaining experience and expertise, teachers who reach the top of the main pay range can apply to be assessed to progress to the upper pay scale. This ranges from £35,218 to £37,871. Higher salaries can be achieved by reaching advanced skills and leadership group levels.

Teachers working within the inner and outer London areas receive additional allowances.

In Scotland, experienced teachers who wish to remain in the classroom rather than pursue management careers can take part in the chartered teacher programme, which involves further skills development. Being a chartered teacher attracts a higher salary.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Teaching hours vary between schools but are generally around 9am to 3.30pm, although an earlier start is more realistic to prepare and set up activities for the day. Some extra hours may also be required for staff meetings, inspections and parent consultations, plus occasional home visits to meet children and parents.

Working hours in a nursery are usually the same as in a school but, as nursery-age children often attend either a morning or an afternoon session, two separate groups may be taught in one day.

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

What to expect

  • Early years teachers work as part of a team with other childcare professionals, especially nursery nurses. Although there is no marking to do, there is paperwork, which 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.
  • Early years teachers are employed in all areas of the UK.
  • The proportion of women in early years teaching is higher than in general primary teaching.
  • The constant need for energy, ideas and creativity, as well as the necessary paperwork, can affect home life, as can activities out of work hours.
  • Travel within the working day is rare, except to attend 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:

  • graduate entry - typically a year of full-time study for those with an undergraduate degree but limited experience working with children. The most common route, usually a primary Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) with an early years specialism.
  • graduate employment-based - a one-year part-time route for graduates working in an early years setting who need further training to meet the Teachers' Standards (Early Years). This includes school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT), School Direct or Teach First.
  • undergraduate entry - a full-time three to four year route leading to EYTS for those studying for a degree in an early childhood-related subject. Usually a BEd or BA/BSc with QTS.
  • 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. Usually takes three months to complete.

Applications for a PGCE, SCITT or School Direct course are made through UCAS Teacher Training. They each require a degree or equivalent qualification and for early years or primary teaching you need to have GCSE grade A to C in English, maths and science. You also need to pass a professional skills test in literacy and numeracy before starting a training course. Find out more at UCAS Teacher Training.

For Teach First courses a 2:1 or above is usually required. Applications are made directly online at Teach First - Graduates.

For all ITT courses you will be required to have a Disclosure and Barring Service check. To specialise in early years, a degree in early childhood studies, education studies or psychology with a significant element devoted to young children may be an advantage.

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

In Northern Ireland, ITT is known as initial teacher education (ITE) and the basic requirements are the same as in England and Wales. Once a graduate passes the BEd or PGCE they are granted 'eligibility to teach', the equivalent to QTS. To train as an early years teacher in Scotland, you would typically take either the BEd in Primary Education or alternatively you could study for the Professional Graduate Diploma in Education - Primary (PGDE).

Skills

For teaching roles you will need to show evidence of the following:

  • a respect and fondness for children;
  • excellent communication skills;
  • good listening skills;
  • the capacity to learn quickly;
  • excellent organisational skills;
  • 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, as well as being able to work in a team;
  • a sense of humour and the ability to keep things in perspective.

The work is often active and you will need stamina to keep up with the needs 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 is often preferred that this is in a school or nursery environment. Some courses specifically ask for a two-week work experience placement in a state maintained school. This may include working as a classroom assistant or shadowing teachers. Other relevant experience includes volunteering at a local playgroup or play scheme. It is a good idea to visit schools to observe and talk to teachers.

Employers

Jobs for early years teachers can be found in:

  • infant and primary schools, including preparatory schools;
  • maintained/independent nurseries (often referred to as pre-prep schools);
  • children centres;
  • nursery centres;
  • early excellence centres.

Private nurseries (often referred to as day nurseries) are less likely to employ early years teachers, as they are paid more than nursery nurses. This could change as the sector grows, but it is more likely that there will be an increase in the number of positions for nursery nurses and other staff who are not necessarily graduates, rather than qualified teachers.

In England and Wales there are state maintained schools and independent schools. State maintained schools include:

  • community schools;
  • foundation and trust schools;
  • voluntary-aided and controlled schools;
  • academies;
  • free schools.

The independent sector includes independent schools, Montessori schools and Steiner Waldorf schools.

For information on schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland see:

Look for job vacancies at:

Teacher recruitment agencies offer part and full-time, temporary and permanent contracts, including:

University careers services are useful sources of vacancies, particularly those in universities running teacher training courses.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

All newly qualified teachers (NQTs) in England and Wales are required to complete a period of induction, which lasts one academic year. The induction period is designed to ensure that all NQTs are supported and monitored during their first year of teaching and that their future professional and career development is built on a firm foundation. The induction can be completed through supply teaching but each temporary role must last at least one term.

The induction can be done in a nursery school but, as you will need breadth of experience, you may need to gain some additional experience with children of other ages. During the induction, you will be teaching around 90% of a typical timetable, while a minimum of 10% of your time will be spent on planning, preparation and assessment (PPA).

Separate induction arrangements, similar to the English and Welsh arrangements, are in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

After the induction, a range of further in-service training is available, for example in special needs teaching (SEN) or subject leadership. Short courses are also available. An MBA/MA/MEd may be useful to those seeking management positions.

Schools deliver training spread over the course of the year. Content and delivery are determined by individual schools. All teachers in Scotland have a contractual commitment to undertake 35 hours' continuing professional development (CPD) per year.

Career prospects

An early years teacher may progress after a number of years of experience to more advanced roles. This can include moving into special educational needs (SEN) or management (deputy or head) roles. Early years coordinator positions may be available in very large nursery schools.

The move from nursery teacher to early years coordinator, and to deputy head in a primary school, can sometimes be difficult because early years teachers tend to have limited experience of working with other year groups. Those wanting to move into senior management roles within a primary school will need to be prepared to gain additional experience in classrooms at Key Stage 1 (five to seven year olds) and Key Stage 2 (seven to 11 year olds).

Undertaking short courses, for example in middle management and leadership skills, will also help to improve promotion prospects. These can be taken as part of in-service training.

Early years teachers may become advanced skills teachers (ASTs). These are teachers who have reached levels of excellence within the profession. They spend approximately 80% of their time as classroom teachers and the remaining 20% is spent improving standards and teaching elsewhere by sharing their skills through outreach work.

Within teaching, it is generally up to the individual to take responsibility for their own development, although this is normally discussed with the immediate line manager at annual performance appraisals. The Masters in teaching and learning (MTL) may be a route that some teachers wish to follow.

Some teachers may choose to move into other areas including 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.