Covid-19 Coronavirus

Nursery and childcare

People working in early years childcare and education are trained to give a high standard of professional care. They supervise the routine and safety of children. Depending on the level of responsibility you are aiming at, entry can be with anything from a few GCSEs up to a relevant degree.

Early years childcare and education is concerned with children’s physical, emotional, social and educational development. Childcare workers help to provide support, security and a stable environment for children, from newborn babies to 8 year olds, in a variety of settings.

There has recently been a huge expansion in nursery provision, especially of privately owned nurseries. The government is encouraging the provision of good quality, affordable childcare. The demand for qualified nursery staff will remain high as the number of nurseries increases.

Relatively few men are employed in nurseries at present, although the importance of having men as well as women to care for children is recognized. Campaigns to attract people into the childcare profession have been targeted towards men, as well as other under-represented groups.

Work opportunities

You could work in:

  • nurseries or pre-schools, which may be privately owned or run by local authorities or voluntary organizations

  • nursery, infant or special schools, helping the qualified teacher in the planning and the day to day running of the school. Childcare workers may be responsible for a small group of children doing a wide range of activities

  • hospitals, working on paediatric wards organizing play activities, and in health centres

  • private family homes, responsible for all aspects of childcare and development

  • holiday centres and even on cruise ships

What it takes

To do this kind of work, you need to:

  • like children and enjoy being with them

  • understand child development

  • have endless patience

  • be observant and safety conscious

  • be lively, imaginative and creative

  • have a sense of humour

Qualifications and training

There is a framework of qualifications for early years education, childcare and playwork, which sets out the different levels of qualifications for different jobs.

CACHE qualifications

CACHE offers a range of qualifications (from entry level to level 4) related to early years care and education. The following are relevant qualifications. If you are aiming at working in nurseries and related childcare settings.

The CACHE level 2 Certificate in Child Care and Education ('CCE') is suitable for those who want to work at assistant level for example as a nursery assistant, pre-school assistant or crèche assistant. The course takes a year to complete on a full time basis (it is also offered part time by some colleges), and is equivalent to NVQ level 2. People who successfully gain the CCE can go on to the Diploma in Child Care and Education ('DCE'), or progress to NVQ level 3 once they are in work. This is not offered on the Isle of Man. However the CPSP certificate in Pre School Practice is offered as a part time option for those working in child care settings.

The CACHE level 3 Diploma in Child Care and Education DCE can be gained through following a 2 year, full time course, and is equivalent to NVQ level 3. The qualification allows you to work unsupervised at a nursery, crèche or in other settings where young children are cared for. It is acceptable in almost every childcare and education setting in the UK and the Isle of Man and is the qualification to aim for if you want to progress to supervisory work. Many further education colleges require a number of GCSEs at grades A* to C (or equivalent, for example a BTEC First Diploma) for entry. English and maths are both important subjects. Human biology, art and design, music and child development will also provide a useful background. Getting a place is competitive. Personality is very important, and the better your qualifications and the more experience you have with children, the greater your chance of being accepted.

Work based learning

Young people and adults may be able to find training based with an employer leading to NVQs at levels 2 and 3 in children’s care, learning and levels 2 and 3 in children’s care, learning and development, the Careers Guidance Service can provide information on opportunities locally.

National Vocational Qualifications

NVQs in children’s care, learning and development are available at levels 2, 3 and 4. NVQs can be gained.

Through assessment in the workplace, by demonstrating your skills, compentence and understanding of the work By attending a part-time course while in employment.

NVQ level 2 is for those who are working at assistant level, on a supervised basis for example nursery assistant, pre-school assistant, playgroup assistant, crèche assistant. It is possible to progress to NVQ level 3 after suitable experience.

NVQ level 3 is for those who want more responsibility, who can work unsupervised and who are aiming at supervisory work. If you want to work as a fully qualified nursery nurse, you should gain qualifications at this level. Supervisory staff need an NVQ level 3 qualification, or equivalent. You can progress to a management post after gaining relevant experience.

NVQ level 4 is for those working at management level.

Other qualifications

Apart from CACHE, there is a range of other qualifications in early years childcare and education. For instance, many further education colleges offer BTEC National qualification in children’s care, learning and development for which you normally need at least 4 GCSEs at grades A* to C or equivalent for entry. Other BTEC qualifications include a First Diploma in children’s care, learning and development. There are also relevant City and Guilds qualifications.

GCSE health and social care may be available in your school (this is a double award GCSE). Many further education colleges and some schools offer AS and A level in health and social care which may be available as single or double awards. Such subjects can provide an introduction to childcare alongside other caring work.

Private nursery colleges

Some colleges normally require a number of GCSEs at grades A*to C including English language and maths, for entry to the CACHE Diploma in Child Care and Education courses. You should note that many applicants have higher qualifications some will have A levels. Most of the private nursery training colleges offer their own prestigious awards, possibly in addition to the CACHE DCE. Some may also offer A level and other courses.

Montessori qualifications

Various private organizations offer courses (Full time, part time and distance learning), in the Montessori approach to working with small children. Some of these courses lead to foundation certificates and diplomas, but they can also be of interest to people wishing to work as nursery assistants. These qualifications are recognized only within the private sector of nursery schools and day nurseries, but they have a good and growing reputation. The Montessori Centre International and the Maria Montessori Training Organization offer a variety of courses. Montessori nurseries can be found in many towns.

Higher education

There are a number of degrees, HNC/D and foundation degree courses in early childhood studies, early years and similar titles. These may be appropriate qualifications if you want to move into management of day nurseries or private kindergartens. The degree course can also allow entry to postgraduate teacher training at some institutions, although you should always check this with individual course providers.

Entry requirements for a degree are usually a minimum of 2 A level passes, together with supporting GCSEs at grades A*to C usually including maths and English. Equivalent qualifications, such as a BTEC National or CACHE DCE may be acceptable. HNC/D entry requirements are more flexible, and may include NVQ level 3, or an A level, or equivalent, with supporting GCSEs. Foundation degrees take 2 years full time, or can be studied part time over a longer period while working. There are no set entry requirements, though an NVQ level 3 plus relevant experience may be expected. Check entry requirements of higher education courses with individual institutions.

A new role at higher-education level available in some areas is that of pedagogue, a qualified teacher combining education and childcare in a nursery or other early years environment.

Early years professional status

As mentioned above, the UK Government has introduced the early years foundation stage. This has led to the development of early years professional status ('EYPS'). Early years professionals are skilled and experienced in the care and development of children aged 0 to 5 years. They are responsible for raising standards, as well as managing care, learning and play. EYPS is only awarded to skilled and experienced individuals; however there are defined pathways for those who wish to work towards this status. The training route you take will depend on your level of experience but applicants must have, or be working towards, a relevant degree as well as GCSEs at grades A* to C in maths and English. For example, some one with a relevant degree but limited experience could complete the full training pathway, which takes a year full-time. For more information, contact the Children’s Workforce Development Council.

Julie is a qualified nursery nurse at a private day nursery, which takes children from babies to school age.

‘My day starts early, as the nursery opens at 8am, when the parents drop off their children. There are 6 other qualified nursery staff besides the manager. We all have to work closely together, planning out the day. It is important to give the children plenty of activities to help them to develop, and to become more independent. So the job is much more than just basic caring – although there is plenty of routine work involved – helping with mealtimes, changing nappies and so on.

I usually have a small number of children to supervise. I organize group activities and games. I also make sure I give each child plenty of individual attention. Storytelling, singing, helping the children to paint a picture or to make something are all part of my working day. Making sure that the children are learning to communicate, and encouraging them to talk, is also important.

We have to be very careful about health and safety, of course. We get to know individual children well, and can keep a check on their health and development.

To be a good nursery nurse, you need to love being with children – even when they are feeling fretful! You need patience, stamina and sensitivity. You also need to be creative, and have plenty of imagination. It’s a rewarding job with plenty of opportunities to travel abroad.’

Finding employment

Job opportunities in local authority nurseries, family centres, homes and hospitals are mainly for trained and qualified nursery nurses. Private Day nurseries and nursery schools vary in their requirements. They may employ a mixture of qualified staff as nursery nurses, and unqualified assistants who would be expected to work towards qualifications such as NVQs. Holding relevant qualifications is becoming increasingly important, and they are essential for progression to more responsible positions.

Jobs for nursery nurses as nannies in private homes, in crèches, at airports or shopping centre’s, with travel firms or in pre-schools, are generally advertised in the local press, or in national publications such as The Lady, the Times Educational Supplement and Nursery World. Some recruitment agencies specialize in jobs for nannies and nursery nurses in private families and there are many openings abroad as well as in the UK.

Anyone applying to work with children is subject to a check by the Criminal Records Bureau’s disclosure service.


Newly qualified nursery staff may earn anything from the national minimum wage up to £15,000 Senior nursery nurses and managers can earn £20,000 or more, according to experience and level of responsibility. Because of demand, pay for live in nannies has increased to £17,000+ per year to much more for some jobs in London.

Adults: Entry requirements for courses can be relaxed for those with relevant experience. The Pre-school Learning Alliance offers courses aimed at adults who are considering a return to work or study, or are already working in the field for example the Certificate in Pre-school Practice (CACHE level 2) and the Diploma in Pre-school Practice (CACHE level 3).

Back to top