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).
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.
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”.
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.
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:
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:
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 workforce for children and families.
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.
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:
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 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:
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.