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Nursery teacher with children

What Qualifications Do You Need to Work in a UK Nursery?

18 December 2023

Working in childcare is incredibly rewarding and offers the opportunity to build lasting relationships with the children in your care and contribute to their development and emotional well-being.

In 2018, 74% of early years staff were qualified to level 3 or above. In this article, we will explore the qualifications you can acquire to work in a nursery and what desirable skills nursery managers look for in their members of staff.

What is an early years worker?

Working in early years covers a range of settings, including:

  • Nursery
  • Preschool
  • Childminder in own home

An early years worker takes care of the needs of the children they look after and works from the EYFS framework. They work to stimulate, entertain and teach the children in their care as well as look after their emotional and physical well-being. The duties of an early years practitioner include:

  • Safeguarding children and reporting any concerns to the relevant department.
  • Provide a range of stimulating activities that are aimed at the children’s age and stage of learning.
  • Taking care of the physical needs of the children in their care. This includes changing nappies, feeding, administering first aid and ensuring that they are warm/cool enough. They may also assist the parents with toilet training while the children are in their care.
  • Building meaningful attachments to the children in their care and their families. It means a lot to parents and families of the children to be able to create strong links between the setting and their home.
  • Tracking the developmental progress of the children and carrying out observations. Any concerns to do with development should be discussed with the parents or caregivers and then referred to the right people if needed.

Who can work in a nursery?

Every setting will have its own set of requirements for staffing. Some nurseries will accept unqualified people whereas others have specific requirements. Many nurseries prefer to hire qualified staff as they can do more with the children within their role. There are a lot of limitations on unqualified staff such as not being able to be left alone with the children. If it is a career that you would like to take further then it is much better to gain qualifications.

What qualifications do you need?

There are different levels of qualifications when it comes to working in early years. Each will enable you to do different things and will also determine what pay bracket you fall into.

Level 2 (CACHE, BTech, NVQ)

This is the entry-level qualification and comprises a one-year course. Level 2 staff can be left alone with children but there must always be a level 3 member of staff in the building. Level 2 staff cannot become managers or room leaders.

Level 3 (CACHE, BTech, NVQ)

This involves a two-year course and will give you the full qualification you need to further your career and work towards everything you want to achieve in your role. This qualification is the most desirable certificate for most settings looking for employees.

Further education

This is not required to work in early years but provides excellent experience and an additional qualification if you would like to further your career by going into teaching or a similar role.

Can you train on the job?

Some nurseries offer childcare apprenticeships. This can be a great way to gain experience while studying and will help you build on your skills. An apprenticeship comprises a combination of on-the-job training and classroom learning where you will pick up the skills needed to work as an early years practitioner and the theory around it.

It is possible to train in both level 2 and level 3 through an apprenticeship and the length of the courses are as follows:

  • Level 2 Childcare Apprenticeship - 12 months
  • Level 3 Childcare Apprenticeship - 18 months

What skills do you need to work in childcare?

Being a good early years practitioner is about so much more than qualifications. The skills you bring to the role are just as important as any certificate you may acquire. These skills might come naturally to you or be something that you build on with experience and they include:

Good communication skills

You must be able to communicate well with the children in your care, their families and your co-workers. Communication skills are vital to build relationships with your children and their families and you must be able to relay information well and be able to handle difficult conversations if they arise.

Organisational skills

Being organised is an important skill when looking after children, even with the support of your co-workers. As a key person, you will have your own group of children that you will be responsible for. You will also need to plan activities and make sure you have the resources needed as well as ensure that you keep on top of any tracking or observations that are required for your key children.


This could range from dealing with altercations between children and managing differences in opinion with staff members to dealing with a child struggling with coming into the setting. You will need to be able to make suggestions to your management team and to the parents on how to tackle any issues in the best way for everyone involved.

Decision making

There are often decisions around a child’s care that may need to be made promptly and so you need to be decisive and confident in your decision-making.

Good at listening

Working in early years requires a strong team who work together and bounce off each other. You must ensure that you are a supportive colleague and are there to listen when required. It is also imperative that you listen to the children in your care. Even babies who cannot talk will communicate via crying and various noises and you must be tuned in to meet their needs. Young children love to share things with their caregivers so it is important to get down to their level and pay attention to the stories they tell and listen when they ask you for something. Undivided attention means so much to young children and feeling listened to is so important.


Working with children means getting those creative juices flowing! You will need to come up with fun, stimulating activities for the children in your care that are appropriate for their age and stage of development. These activities can range from painting to baking and everything in between. It is always good to incorporate the seasons or any festivals that are taking place at that time.

Thinking on your feet

Working with children is fast-paced and busy and often requires you to think on your feet. Every day is different and plans often need to be changed depending on the needs and reactions of the children so it is important to be able to think quickly and make spur-of-the-moment decisions. For example, if you had planned an activity outside and it was pouring with rain, you would need to change your plans quickly and adapt it to be an inside game.

Calm in a crisis

When a crisis occurs you must be able to handle it calmly so as not to upset any of the children, and be able to deal with the situation in the best way possible. An example of a crisis would be a child falling and injuring themselves badly. You must know exactly what to do and be able to follow the policies of the setting.

Are there any additional courses I will need to do?

Most settings will require you to take certain courses and there will be others that are optional but will improve your professional development. Examples of these are:

  • First aid
  • Food hygiene

Consider any additional courses that would be advantageous and looked on favourably by a potential employer, such as Makaton.

Interested in joining our team?

Abbey Wood Grange Day Nursery and Pre-School is a private nursery with a dedicated and passionate team who are committed to providing the highest quality care for the children they look after.

If you are interested in joining our team, contact us today for more information.