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How to become an Early Years Teacher?

Early Years Teacher Status is a degree level qualification and there are various paths you can take to get there, but ultimately you need a degree which awards Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS).

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Degree level qualifications for Early Years typically enrich your knowledge of child development, child psychology and explore the social and political factors shaping childhood today. This sound underpinning of your practice improves the quality of education you provide to the children.

An Early Years Teacher and two toddler boys play in the sand

Jayne Garcia, lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Plymouth Marjon University explains that there is an increasing demand for Early Years Teachers: “The Early Years workforce is evolving, and it has been since funding was introduced for places for young children. To receive funding a setting has to have a given number of qualified staff and so we’ve seen the sector move from being largely unqualified to being qualified. For example, settings can have a 1:8 ratio of level 3 practitioners to children. If they have an Early Years Teacher actively working with those children the ratio changes to 1:13. There are many benefits for settings that employ Early Years Teacher, it helps keep the wage bill manageable whilst at the same time ensuring high-quality childcare”. 

How to become an Early Years Teacher?

An Early Years Teacher looks at books with preschoolers in the playground

To be an Early Years Teacher you’ll need to achieve Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS), which enables you to specialise in working with children up to five years old. To achieve EYTS you must meet the Early Years Teachers’ Standards, which are government guidelines for the best professional practice in Early Years. They cover setting positive expectations, promoting progress, knowledge of early learning, planning and assessment, safeguarding and commitment to the needs of children.

The entry requirements for a degree which awards Early Years Teacher Status are at least a level 3 qualification, such as A-levels, BTEc or NVQ. To train as an Early Years Teacher you’ll also need GCSE at grade 4 or grade C in English, Maths and Science. 

Routes to Early Years Teacher Status

If you already have an undergraduate degree, your best route to Early Years Teacher Status is Early Years Initial Teacher Training. This is a one-year postgraduate course and is fully funded by the government meaning they pay all the fees. Up to £7K is available to support your training. This comes either as a bursary paid to you if you are not working, or it is paid to your employer if you are already working in the Early Years sector. It covers their costs associated with your training, enabling them to release you to study and keep you on so you can earn while you learn. It’s worth noting that the government reviews this funding annually so this could change in the future. 

If you don’t yet have a degree, then you need to do an undergraduate degree. Some practitioners get their Early Years degree straight out of school, but most don’t. Many go straight into a setting after school, get their level 3 qualification and later opt for a degree because they love what they do and want to develop further in their role. Others aspire to leadership in Early Years, for example becoming a deputy manager, manager or SENCO and they need a degree to progress. 

To become an Early Years Teacher, you can do an undergraduate degree that awards Early Years Teacher Status, but it isn’t included as standard, so you need to check. If you do an Early Years or Early Childhood Studies undergraduate degree without EYTS, you can follow it up with a one-year fully funded postgraduate Early Years Initial Teacher Training. 

An undergraduate degree typically takes three years. An Early Years foundation degree typically takes two years, and you can opt to top it up to a full honours degree with a third year of study if you wish. You need the full honours degree if you wish to progress to postgraduate Early Years Initial Teacher Training.

    Considerations for choosing an undergraduate Early Years degree:

  • Do you want a broad Early Years degree, or would you prefer to specialise in a related subject such as outdoor learning or special educational needs?
  • Does the degree convey Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) or are you going to get this after?
  • Do you want a flexible degree that fits alongside work? Or do you want a full-time student experience? With either option you can apply for Student Finance to help cover the costs.
  • What academic and other support is available from the university should you need it?
  • How much are the fees? Be aware that foundation degrees tend to cost less per annum than honours degrees.

What are the Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies?

Some undergraduate degrees, such as BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies come with the Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies (ECGPCs). The competencies were developed by the Early Childhood Studies Degree Network (ECSDN) to equip the graduate workforce with higher-level professional skills and focus across a broad range of practice from health to education. Note though that they do not confer Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS).

The Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies broaden a graduate’s learning to make them more rounded practitioners. The Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies are: 

  • Advocating for young children’s rights and participation
  • Promote holistic child development
  • Work directly with young children, families, and colleagues to promote health, well-being, safety, and nurturing care
  • Observe, listen, and plan for young children to support their well-being, early learning, progression, and transitions
  • Safeguarding and child protection
  • Inclusive practice
  • Partnership with parents and caregivers
  • Collaborating with others
  • Professional development

The competencies were introduced to remove confusion amongst settings as to how different Early Childhood degrees align to practice requirements, and to ensure that graduates have the experience and skills that the sector needs. Dr Helen Simmons, Vice Chair of the ECSDN tells us more:

"The competencies were developed in 2018 by the Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network (ECSDN) in consultation with students, higher education institutions, and employers, with an aim of ‘strengthening a graduate-led Early Childhood workforce that is responsive to workforce needs and improves outcomes for children’ (ECSDN, 2018).

"Students who achieve the Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies meet the nine competencies through assessed observations of practice, practice-based tasks, and academic assessment. The competencies recognise and promote both the holistic and contextual nature of childhood and the multi-professional routes that our students and graduates engage with. These developments enhance reflective practice, graduate employability and/or progression onto postgraduate study including Early Years Teacher (0-5), Teacher (3-11), Social Work, or health professions."

The Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies, not only serve to strengthen the practice of students and their critical application of theory to practice, but also make an important contribution towards a graduate led workface for children and families.

How do Early Years Teachers make a difference?

It is recognised that quality in Early Years is closely associated with the qualification of the workforce, and the key to high quality is upskilling the workforce. Most people go into Early Years for love not money, and a degree unlocks leadership roles so you can make a real difference to children.

Back to Jayne Garcia, to outline the value of Early Years education: “It’s long been recognised, since the landmark Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project, that money spent on early years education pays back. For every £1 invested in quality early care and education, taxpayers save up to £13 in future costs. This happens because the physical and social skills, as well as the maths and reading skills gained in Early Years education, positively influence educational outcomes. But not just that, quality Early Years education leads to better health and reduces the likelihood of offending down the line. And the better qualified the practitioners, the better the outcomes for those children at school. That holds true right through from when they start school to their GCSEs. The long-term outcome is better for children when their Early Years provision is with a highly qualified workforce.” 

 

Gemma Tanner, Nursery Manager, explains how becoming an Early Years Teacher has made a difference in her practice:

"The best things about my job are working with children, their parents and a variety of other people. It’s great when you can get them the help they need and make a difference.

"I did an undergraduate degree in Early Years and then wanted to extend my knowledge and my understanding even further. I picked a postgraduate diploma, one that included Early Years Teacher Status. It really improved my knowledge and challenged my practice in a good way.

"It was challenging whilst I was training, especially working as a nursery manager alongside it. Working full-time meant I needed good time management, but it was enjoyable. I met new people and we’re still in touch now, sending each other information, it’s really good for networking.

"I was on the course when Covid-19 hit, which added another layer of challenge. It was good because when we had Covid in our setting a couple of times I could talk to other people who were in the same situation. It was good to have those people around me, we helped each other through it.

"Training as an Early Years teacher has given me more knowledge and more ideas around child development and supporting parents. It enabled me to look at what we do and refine it, challenge what we do and change things if we need to. We have changed the way we run certain things at the nursery for the better because of it. For example, we’ve changed the way we do assessments and that benefits the children by enabling practitioners to spend more time with them."

In the Nordic countries, where affordable high-quality childcare is the norm, 60% of early years practitioners are educated to degree standard. This is 13% in the UK. The UK government has an aspiration for an Early Years teacher in every setting but has not yet set out a plan to get us there.

Moreover, graduate leadership in Early Years is associated with narrowing the gap between the most and least disadvantaged children. The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) link this to the diverse ways in which graduate practitioners involve children, simulate interactions with and between children and use diverse scaffolding strategies such as guiding, modelling, and questioning. They have advanced skills for effective communication with children.

How to get on to an Early Years course 

So how do you get accepted on an Early Years course at a university? Jayne says: “I’m looking for passion for working with children and making their lives better. Some candidates are already working in Early Years and are looking for the broader knowledge to progress their careers. Others are career changers, often they’ve had children themselves and it opens their eyes to a career they’d never thought about before. I’m very interested in what drives you.” 

Many courses don’t interview candidates, so a strong personal statement is essential. You’ll also need a reference that confirms your suitability to work with children and a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check for safeguarding purposes. 

Your personal statement should provide evidence of:  

  • Communication and listening skills – Outline your interpersonal skills and how you can relate to both children and adults. Are you good in a team, and can you lead one?  
  • Empathy and creativity – Share real life examples about how you draw on these things in play. 
  • Keen to make a difference to children and families – Be clear, why do you want to do this? 
  • Insight into child behaviour – What did you observe a child doing and what did you do in response to support them? 
  • Patience and willingness – Give an example of when you supported a child who was struggling. Have you got experience of supporting a child with behavioural difficulties or disabilities? 
  • Organisational skills – How do you plan? How do you respond to the different needs of the children? 

It’s a great idea to contact the course leader for an informal chat about curriculum of the course - find out how much you are expected to study, how you’ll be supported, to generally check that the course is right for you. Also, this is an opportunity to make a good impression before they see your application. 

Early Years Teacher Status versus Qualified Teacher Status

Early Years Teacher Status is different from Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) which is needed to teach a nursery or reception class in a maintained school i.e. a state school overseen by the local authority. Both qualify you to teach young children, but the one you choose sets you on a very different career path.

The main differences are: 

  • The age group you work with. Early Years Teacher Status specialises in supporting the 0-5 year olds but with Qualified Teacher Status you’ll focus on older children. 
  • Where you can work. Early Years Teacher Status equips you to teach in most Early Years settings including nurseries and preschools, but not in the nursery class or reception class of a maintained school i.e. state school. For this you need Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). With Early Years Teacher Status you may be employed by an Academy or an Independent school,but it’s up to the individual schools so some do, some don’t take you with Early Years Teacher Status. Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) does not qualify you to work in nurseries and preschools, which are the majority of Early Years settings.  
  • Your pay. Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) puts you on the teacher’s pay scale, on which you'll tend to earn more. There is no standard pay scale for Early Years Teachers Status, so pay can be very variable. 
  • Your career path. Early Years Teacher Status typically readies you for senior roles in the Early Years sector, whereas Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) equips you for your first classroom teaching role.

If you’re interested in finding out more about training to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (as opposed to Early Years Teacher Status) check out courses like BEd (Hons) Primary Education with Early Years or PGCE Primary.

Early Years Teachers aren’t generally paid as much as school teachers. Most Early Years Teachers are in it for the love of it, but they also get more options to be self-employed. These range from being a solo freelancer to running their own larger Early Years setting.

Early Years Teachers provide the foundations for the rest of a child’s education. It’s a joy to teach (if a bit messy) and every day you get to see children's faces light up because you've helped them to learn. 

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