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Discover why a career in early years education is so rewarding – and all the flexible roles available

Read our guide and find the best career path for you

In partnership with

Department for Education

early years education
Esther Coombes
Content Lead
5 April 2024
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The first five years of a child’s life are considered the most formative in life, as children learn faster than at any other time. Our physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and motor development are accelerated through the experiences, relationships and surroundings we experience during this time – all of which have a lasting impact on our mental and emotional wellbeing, our ability to form relationships and thrive in a career. 

With the roll-out of new government funded 15 hours of childcare for two-year-olds this April, there are even more opportunities for those interested in a career working with young children. 

From nursery or pre-school professionals through to childminders and those running wraparound clubs for children of primary school age, careers working with young children provide some of the most fulfilling, impactful and rewarding experiences in life. 

As Laverne Antrobus, Child and Educational Psychologist shares: “This time in a child’s life is uniquely important. Professionals in this sector will feel the rewards from working with this incredible age group as you help shape the way that young children communicate, manage their emotions and explore and understand the world.” 

Every day is different when you’re looking after young children, and not only does this type of role give you an opportunity to use your own creativity and imagination through play and exploration, you also get to share in each child’s joy as they grow, achieve and succeed in their development.

Clare Roberts OBE is the Founder and CEO of Kids Planet Nurseries. She shares that the early years "are the foundation stones which set the child up for the rest of their future in terms of their learning, development, and relationships. 

"They also have a really valuable role in supporting parents as the primary care giver and lay the foundations for the qualities that we all develop as we grow through education and beyond in terms of resilience, understanding, empathy and enable us to form as unique individuals”.

With the opportunity to shape future generations, careers in early years also offer a rewarding and varied working experience, the chance to gain qualifications as you train and the chance to work flexibly and close to home. 

Working with young children is also valued and respected by parents. An independent study carried out by the Department for Education in January 2024* found that almost all respondents (97%) believe that that their child’s early years professional had an impact on their child’s development, while three quarters (74%) of British parents described early years professionals as ‘real-life superheroes’.

But what skills do you need? Laverne Antrobus comments: “In this role you will see children thrive whilst you alternate between your skills of understanding, patience, care and warmth to provide the secure base that young children need. 

"Bringing your compassionate approach to help children face the highs and lows, and growing their confidence to keep trying even when things feel tough will prove a steadying feature.”

Interview with a nursery professional

We asked Stephanie Randell, an Early Years Lead Professional at The Laurels Childcare Company, Durham to share her experience of working in a nursery:

Which key personality traits would especially suit someone to work in early years and childcare? 

“For me, the key personality traits consist of empathy, excitement, kindness and patience. All of these things are important to ensure that you are able to support the children’s learning in a way that allows them to feel completely confident and secure in their own abilities.”  

What is the most rewarding part of the role?

“Definitely the relationships you’re able to form with the children and families. Creating a special bond with a child, seeing their confidence build and watching them thrive and flourish developmentally truly gives me the most joy!”

What is the most challenging part?

“I feel it is managing the workload. It can be difficult trying to make the environment and experiences within a nursery engaging while also tailoring our educational offers to each individual child. However, once you fully understand child development and the way in which children learn, it quickly becomes second nature and is exceptionally rewarding.”

Who can early years professionals turn to for support, and is there training for caring for vulnerable or neurodiverse children?

“There are many opportunities for support within the field of childcare. This is a job where you are constantly learning, even after almost 15 years I’m still learning new things from others and developing new ideas each day. In our nursery we deliver in-house training each term to support our less experienced colleagues. There is an amazing range of courses within the Durham local authority that our nursery uses. The Department for Education offers a peer support scheme which allows more experienced professionals to share knowledge and support with others within their day-to-day roles. There are many opportunities to gain skills and understanding around caring for children that are vulnerable or have special educational needs. There are courses within local colleges in my area that are free and many opportunities for online learning too.” 

With 30,000 nurseries and pre-schools currently operating in the UK and the upcoming rollout of increased government-funded childcare entitlement, there is a wealth of opportunities to join the sector, from apprenticeships to jobs for those who are qualified.

From April, some areas will be able to offer up to 3000 new early years professionals a £1000 tax-free cash boost, which they will receive following their three-month probation period. Some jobs in nurseries don’t need a specific early years qualification, so those interested can apply directly and if successful start working straight away. 

Anyone working with children will need to pass enhanced DBS checks and, subject to each role, complete the relevant safeguarding training. 

Local Authorities also provide specialist support and training for those working with neuro diverse children and those with additional needs where required. There is also the chance to earn while you learn and complete an apprenticeship at level 1 or 2, which is the equivalent to gaining a GCSE. 

From full-time and flexible part-time roles, to those that can be done from your own home, explore the best pathway into early years education for you via the Department for Education’s website. 

Job opportunities in early years education

Working in a nursery

Job roles:

  • Nursery assistant
  • Senior team member or team leader
  • Early years teacher
  • Nursery manager
  • Special educational needs coordinator

Working in a pre-school

 Job roles:

  • Pre-school assistant
  • Senior team member or team leader
  • Early years teacher
  • Manager 
  • Special educational needs coordinator

 Being a childminder

Job roles:

  • Childminding assistant or childminder in your own home, a nursery, church hall or classroom 

Working in before and after school clubs 

 Job roles:

  • Wraparound assistants
  • Playworkers
  • Sports coaches
  • Childcare workers

“All these jobs play a key role in the early development of young children. A career in early years is a unique opportunity to be alongside children as they hit those important milestones that will help them be ready for school, and to explore and understand the world.” says Laverne.

Take your first step and do something big, today. Search early years careers and browse the Department for Education website.


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