Teacher (nursery/early years): job description

Nursery and early years teachers help to nurture and develop the knowledge, abilities, and social skills of children from birth to five years old, giving them the best possible start to their education.

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Early years teaching calls for enthusiastic, imaginative and energetic individuals, capable of helping children reach their full potential.

What does a pre-school teacher do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Typical responsibilities of the job include:

  • developing and implementing lessons and work schemes, using the Early Years Foundation Stage as a framework
  • providing a safe and stimulating environment that facilitates learning
  • organising and supervising play and work activities (for example reading, cooking, music, dancing etc)
  • liaising with parents, carers and professionals such as speech therapists and health visitors
  • maintaining records
  • monitoring and recording progress

Early years teaching calls for enthusiastic, imaginative and energetic individuals, capable of helping children reach their full potential. Our advice on specialising in early years education gives more insight into what it is like teaching this age group.

Typical employers of nursery and early years teachers

Early years teachers can be employed in any early years setting, whether state-maintained, voluntary or private, including nursery, infant and primary schools.

Teaching vacancies are advertised in local authority jobs lists and by publications such as the Times Educational Supplement and Nursery World.

Qualifications and training required

Anyone wishing to become a nursery teacher in England must gain early years teacher status (EYTS). You can obtain this by taking an early years initial teacher training (EYITT) course. There are grants and bursaries available to cover the costs of postgraduate teacher training. It's advisable to apply in good time for teacher training places through UCAS Teacher Training, ideally in the autumn term of the final year of your degree.

Our advice on careers in teaching and education covers teacher training routes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in more depth and includes more detailed information about funding and bursaries as well as advice on applications and interviews for teacher training.

Graduates can apply for a PGCE or PGDE (Postgraduate or Professional Graduate Certificate or Diploma in Education) course with an early years specialism. Alternatively, they could apply for a SCITT (School-Centred Initial Teacher Training) programme. The Teach First and School Direct programmes also cover early years education.

Graduates can also take a graduate employment-based route to qualifying if they are working in an early years settting and need further training.

It is also possible to do an undergraduate degree that leads to EYTS, usually a bachelor of education (BEd) or a bachelor of arts/science (BA/BSc) with qualified teacher status (QTS). These courses typically take three or four years full-time and tuition fee loans are available to help with costs.

There is also an assessment-only route for graduates who also have a substantial amount of experience working with children from birth to age five and who do not need further training.

Graduates applying for early years teacher training must have GCSEs (at least grade C/4) or equivalent in English, maths and science, and pass professional skills tests in literacy and numeracy. A science or technology background may be useful, as can extra skills such as music, arts and crafts. Previous experience of working with children is usually essential.

To find out how to get into careers in education via a school leaver route, visit the teaching and education section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for nursery and early years teachers

  • Adaptability
  • Creativity
  • Patience
  • Responsibility
  • Resourcefulness
  • A good sense of humour
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