Working in early years and childcare - what experience and qualifications do I need?

What experience and qualifications do I need?

If you are patient and enthusiastic, take responsibility seriously and have a sense of fun, you may have all you need to start your career in early years, childcare or playwork.

For some roles you can start with no experience or qualifications, but, for most roles it pays to get some voluntary experience and a full and relevant qualification. Experience and qualifications help you to make the most of your skills and enable better outcomes for the children you work with. After all, you’ll play an important role as you watch them grow and develop – socially, emotionally, physically, creatively and intellectually. Experience and qualifications will also help you climb the career ladder.

You can train 'on the job' through modern apprenticeship schemes and part time attendance at college or study full time at college (if you are aged 16-18 years) for approximately two years. It is also possible to work and study at the same time through a Distance Learning provider such as National Extension College. Details of courses are available on their website.

I don't have any qualifications. Will I get a job?

Some settings will employ you without qualifications. However, you must be prepared to undertake training whilst working. You should be aware that part-time qualification courses are offered in the evening and may require you to attend up to two evenings per week for approximately one year.

What if I gained my qualification a long time ago?

If you have not been working in the sector recently, you will need to check that your qualification is still considered 'full and relevant'. You can check if your qualification is valid here.

Other ways to keep up to date is to look at sector publications such as Nursery World, Practical Pre-school and Early Years Educator, and the websites of:

You could volunteer in a local pre-school, nursery or after-school club to gain some current experience and get a feel for what is happening locally.

What qualifications should I consider?

If you are just starting your career you should only consider qualifications that are on the Early Years Qualifications List as these will have been deemed full and relevant by the Sector Skills Councils responsible for those working with children and young people.

Before applying to study a for a Level 3 qualification please check that it is a a full and relevant Level 3 qualification otherwise it may not meet Ofsted requirements.  Post 2014, the qualification will have Early Years Educator in the title, for example:

  • CACHE Diploma in Early Years Education and Care (Early Years Educator) (VRQ).
  • CACHE Diploma for the Early Years Workforce (Early Years Educator) (QCF).
  • City & Guilds Diploma for the Early Years Practitioner (Early Years Educator) (QCF).
  • Skillsfirst Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce (Early Years Educator).
  • Pearson UK BTEC National Diploma in Children’s Play, Learning and Development (Early Years Educator).

To check whether a qualification is full and relevant, use the Ofqual Register of Regulated Qualifications or the DfE-approved qualifications list.

Can I work part-time?

In the main, the answer to this question is yes, however many pre-schools now provide an extended day, and your idea of part-time may be different to what is actually on offer. Nurseries are also able to provide some part-time opportunities. Part time employment is also an option for working in the out-of-school sector such as breakfast and after-school clubs and holiday play schemes.

Childminders are self employed and set their own hours of work, and this type of work may suit you.