For children to get a good start, they need to be looked after and educated by people with the right blend of skills and personal qualities. Working with children, especially young children, is demanding. But it is also very rewarding. If you pursue a career in early education, childcare or play work you can make a real difference to children's lives and to their families.

Childcare jobs

People working in early education, childcare and play have a number of different job titles and work in different settings. Child minders, for example, usually work in their own homes looking after children under the age of eight. Child minders may also look after older children, particularly after school.

Nannies care for children in the home of the child. In some cases the family may prefer nannies to live with them (these nannies may also be known as 'au pairs'). Many nannies register with childcare agencies that help them find suitable employment. Agencies generally prefer workers who hold relevant qualifications in childcare and early years/education.

Those wanting to go into childcare could also work in early education, childcare and play centres. Crèche workers, for example, may work in a variety of settings that have attached crèches, for example: sports centres and supermarkets.

Play leaders are employed in playgroups, out of school childcare settings, community centres, hospital playgroups, adventure playgrounds, holiday play schemes and other children's clubs. It is the job of the play leader to plan appropriate play opportunities for the children in the centre. Play workers (or play assistants) work in the same settings as play leaders but in a more junior role.

Nursery nurses are known by a number of different titles, including nursery officers and early education and childcare workers. Nursery nurses work in a number of different settings, for example: local authority nursery schools or classes; private day nurseries; voluntary sector nurseries; child and family centres; community nurseries; and hospital nurseries. Nursery nurses may also work in primary schools to support teachers in the classroom. Nursery assistants tend to work in the same settings as nursery nurses, but in a more junior role.

Jobs in schools

Many people working in childcare do so in a school setting. Out-of-school care assistants work in breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, and holiday play schemes. Often the same provider will provide all three. Breakfast and after-school clubs, in particular, tend to take place in school settings but outside of normal school hours. Out-of- school care workers also work in other settings outside of schools, for example community centres and church halls. The range of activities offered by out-of-school clubs can be quite varied and will depend on the age range of the children.

Classroom assistants work in primary schools to assist teachers in the classroom. Special needs assistants (also known as special needs auxiliaries, SEN auxiliaries or support for learning assistants) also work in primary schools and give particular help to children with special educational needs. They tend to work one-to-one with children.

Childcare apprenticeships

School leavers wanting to work in this sector could do an Intermediate Apprenticeship (Level 2) after taking their GCSEs, and train in roles like early years assistant, care worker or assistant youth support worker.

They could then do an Advanced Apprenticeship (Level 3) in roles like nursery worker or supervisor, or nursery teaching assistant. School leavers with A-levels could also access these schemes.

School leavers could also look at the courses on offer at further education college or university. 

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