Training and qualifications

Getting an approved qualification can help you develop your knowledge and skills. You don’t need a qualification to start your career in early years and childcare but it’s something that nurseries and pre-schools often look for.

Learning new skills and getting an approved qualification can help you to progress your career in early years and childcare. There are roles where you will need to have an approved qualification.

If you want to work as a childminder, you’ll need relevant first aid and childcare training. Check what else you’ll need to become a childminder.

Start work now and get a qualification on the job

Apprenticeships combine real work with training and study for a specific role. You’ll learn new skills, gain experience and earn a salary too. There are two entry-level early years apprenticeships:

  • level 2 early years practitioner (equivalent to GCSEs)
  • level 3 early years educator (equivalent to A Levels)

Find out more about these apprenticeships.

Both apprenticeships are suitable for those with no previous experience. Level 2 may be more suitable for those leaving school at 16. It allows you to work in an early years setting under supervision. It is an excellent entry point into the sector.

Level 3 may be more suitable for those who want to plan, organise and lead learning activities, and perhaps supervise others.

To work as a qualified member of staff, you’ll need to hold an approved qualification.

Get a qualification before starting work

If you want to gain a qualification through a classroom-based course, you can get approved qualifications through a range of training providers. These include:

  • level 2 courses (equivalent to GCSEs)
  • level 3 courses (equivalent to A Levels)
  • the T Level in education and early years (broadly equivalent to three A Levels)
  • early years degrees

To find out what training is available where you live, speak to your local college, training provider or careers service. If you decide to work towards a qualification, it’s important check if it is an approved qualification. Ask your training provider if the qualification:

  • has been approved by the Department for Education
  • will let you work as a level 2 or level 3 member of staff

You can get free level 3 early years qualifications if you:

  • don’t already have a level 3 or higher qualification
  • are unemployed or earning below the National Living Wage annually – this is regardless of any other qualifications you hold

You can also get free maths level 2 courses if you do not already have a GCSE in maths at grade 4 (or equivalent).

Already have a qualification

If you already have a qualification that you think might allow you to work in early years it is important to check if it is an approved qualification. Ask your training provider if the qualification:

  • has been approved by the Department for Education
  • will let you work as a level 2 or level 3 member of staff

If you are thinking of doing a course, speak to a training provider about recognition of prior learning. This means a training provider may offer to assess your prior learning to see whether they can credit you for learning you’ve already done. This could lead to you being able to complete a course more quickly.

Many training providers have their policies on recognising prior learning online. This will explain who is eligible, what evidence they need from you and how their process works.

Free online training courses

Whether you are thinking of working with small children or even if you already are, there are courses available that can help you get one step ahead or brush up on your skills.

Early years child development training

There’s no experience required to take this free online early years child development course.

If you’re already working in early years, the course will build and strengthen your existing knowledge of child development.

If you’re just starting out, then it will give you invaluable new insights.

You can choose to do this online course whenever suits you and you’ll get a certificate for each module you complete.

Skills Bootcamps

Skills Bootcamps are free, flexible courses of up to 16 weeks.

They are perfect if you are looking to change careers or progress in your existing early years role.

Once you complete the Skills Bootcamp, you’ll have the opportunity to move into an accelerated level 3 early years educator apprenticeship.

Search for an early years educator Skills Bootcamp near you.

Job application support

Find out how you can get support with your application.


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Working in childcare and early years

Find out what’s involved in working in early years and childcare.

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Search for jobs

If you’re ready to apply now, you can search for jobs in the early years and childcare sector. There are around 30,000 nurseries and pre-schools in the UK, so there are lots of opportunities out there.