Have you ever considered working in childcare but don’t know what to expect? Maybe you’re a parent returning to work, or a school leaver seeking their first apprentice placement, or maybe you just want a change of scene, and childcare appeals. Whatever your current status, knowing what to expect will help you make an informed choice about joining the childcare workforce.
Childcare workers provide care and supervision for children. They can work in public and private settings including residential homes, hospitals, women’s shelters and educational establishments. As a childcare worker, you help shape the lives of exuberant and inquisitive little people as they work out what the world is, and their place in it.
According to Government statistics, as of March 31, 2019, the number of childcare providers registered with Ofsted, were1:
27,300 providers on non-domestic premises (group-based settings)
10,100 home childcarers (nannies)
200 childcarers on domestic premises (home-based settings)
That’s 76,600 providers, and 2018 statistics record 700,000 childcare workers in the sector.2 Each setting will offer different advantages and disadvantages, autonomy and working conditions, and like any career, starters and apprentices will have different day-to-day practices than an experienced, degree-qualified, nursery manager or owner.
But working in childcare is incredibly rewarding, so read on to see what to expect and if this career is for you. In this article, we have focused on nursery workers, which can also be known as nursery nurses, nursery assistants, pre-school assistants, playgroup assistants and childcare apprentices.
One great thing about working in childcare, is that everyday will bring something new. Yes, there will be routines to follow and schedules to keep to, but you will be working with children, and that means new situations, new ideas and new experiences.
Day-to-day tasks can include:
- Planning and supervising activities, e.g. music, mark-making, arts and crafts, cooking
- Helping with language and numeracy skills through games and activities like phonics and counting
- Taking part in trips and activities outside the setting or in an outdoor space
- Supporting children at mealtimes
- Feeding and changing babies and assisting with toilet training toddlers
- Observing children and making notes on their development
- Safeguarding children
- Managing children’s behaviour in a positive and nurturing way
- Helping children’s social, emotional and educational development
- Setting-up and packing-away equipment as needed
- Dealing with children with special needs
- Following rules and adhering to your setting’s policies and procedures
As you gain more experience, you could progress to become a key worker for one or more children, which may include liaising with parents or providing reports on the children’s development.
Qualifications expected and regulatory checks
Childcare is a career that you can still get into without having formal qualifications, although most settings will expect you to be able to demonstrate that you have some interest in the sector or at least some experience, even as a volunteer. You can expect there to be competition for places on college courses and apprenticeships, and most settings will expect you to train for at least a level 2 or level 3 childcare qualification on the job if you do not already have qualifications.
Childcare qualifications range from level 2 (equivalent to GCSEs) right up to post-graduate and research level, and the higher paid jobs with more responsibility, will inevitably require a higher level of experience and qualification.
You will also need to have an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check but this is a standard requirement for anyone working with children.
Environment and working hours
Childcare workers are employed in different settings, including:
- Dedicated childcare premises or crèches
- Daily childcare settings (such as those who operate from church halls or community centres who set-up/pack-away daily)
- Domestic settings
- Children’s centres
- Primary schools
The majority of childcare is provided during normal working hours, although this can vary if you are employed in a domestic situation. In a dedicated setting, you should normally expect to work an 8-hour day, 5 days a week but nurseries can be open from 7am to 6pm or even later, and you might need to work a shift system to cover the operating hours. Your setting may also work Saturdays in some cases.
Some jobs, such as those in reception classes in schools, may operate during term-time only which may appeal.
You will also be with predominantly female colleagues since only 2% of the current UK childcare workforce is male.
Earnings & career advancement
According to Total Jobs, the average salary for childcare jobs is £27,000, ranging from £20,536 to £37,0003. Starter salaries and apprenticeships are lower, but apprentices will get at least the national minimum wage, currently £3.90 per hour.
Tips and advice
Wherever you end up, when you work with children, you can expect to work hard for your money. It can be a stressful environment, but it’s also an incredibly creative, rewarding and fulfilling one too.
Our advice is to make sure you do your homework about the setting you are thinking of working in. Read their relevant Ofsted reports, which will give you more information about the environment and ethos, and talk to people actually working in childcare to find out what they think are the pros and cons of the industry.
If possible, try to gain some experience as a volunteer before you commit to a course or apprenticeship, so you are making an informed decision based on some practical knowledge or experience. This could be baby-sitting for friends and family, as a volunteer or as a nanny. Visit All for Good, where you can search for volunteering programs in your area, including assisting with child care.
For more information on Parenta childcare apprenticeships, see: