Early years teachers (a.k.a. nursery teachers or pre-school teachers) are responsible for teaching pupils between the ages of three and five, mainly as an introduction to the upcoming phase of primary school education.
Early years teachers help children to communicate and interact in a classroom scenario, which is far removed from their experiences to date. Additionally, teachers help children to develop basic learning skills (verbal, written and numeric) through fun lessons and interesting activities, which encourage creativity, independent thought and expression.
It won’t be all play, no work though! Even at this early stage of education, you’ll be required to plan lessons, monitor your pupils’ achievements and liaise with parents or guardians to optimise their children’s pre-school learning experiences.
This is also a critical period in discovering and identifying exceptionally-gifted students, as well as those who may have learning disabilities.
Salary & benefits
Salaries depend on the location and sector in which early years teachers are employed; teachers employed by independent schools are likely to earn salaries which are significantly different from those earned by teachers in the state school system.
The present pay scale for teachers in England and Wales starts at around £21,000 and gradually increases up to £32,000 on an annual basis.
Experienced teachers are paid in accordance with a higher pay scale and can earn around £32,000 to £36,000.
If you live and work in London, you may earn slightly more in order to cope with higher living costs.
Teachers in Scotland are all paid between £20,000 and £35,000.
Most teachers actually teach their pupils from around 8.30am to 3.30pm. However, many will also work before and after their classes, in order to plan lessons and prepare teaching materials.
You may also be required to work late hours from time to time, to deal with staff administration, meetings and parents’ evenings.
All early years teachers need to attain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) before they can start teaching in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. First things first, though: you’ll need to complete an initial teacher training (ITT) course. As an undergraduate you could do a BEd degree or a BA/BSc with QTS.
Alternatively, as a postgraduate, you could obtain a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or complete the School Direct Training Programme. You cannot currently become an early years teacher through the Teach First graduate programme.
To work in Scotland, you’ll need to obtain a Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (Primary) or do a BEd in Primary Education.
Wherever you teach, you’ll need to undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) security check before you can start working with children.
Training & progression
Newly-qualified teachers (NQTs) undergo an extensive induction programme, spread over three academic terms, where you’ll get the chance to work with children of different age groups. Following this, you’ll receive on-the-job training periodically throughout your career.
As you progress in your career, you may move into senior management roles and perhaps even move into primary education. Eventually, you could even become a deputy head or headteacher of a primary school.
Other early years teachers choose to specialise and focus their efforts on purely working with children with special educational needs (SEN).
Alternatively, you could move away from the hands-on teaching side of things and become an inspector for Ofsted or the Independent Schools Council (ISC).