Starting a career in childcare or education

Do you consider yourself to be an empathetic person? Do you like the idea of a career in which you can help others learn, develop, and grow? If so, then starting a career in childcare or education might be right for you. Aside from a high level of job satisfaction, working in these fields has many practical benefits; once you’re qualified, you can take a job almost anywhere in the country, and you'll enjoy the security of knowing you’ll never be short of work. You’ll also benefit from clear career progression routes, with pay rises as you take on more responsibility. Even if you have no prior experience, gaining a qualification and landing a job is a much simpler process than you'd think. Here, we’re going to look at some of the different careers within the education and childcare sector, and exactly what you’d need to do to achieve them.

Teaching Assistant

What does a teaching assistant do?

The job of a teaching assistant is an extremely important one, and definitely worth considering if you'd like to start a career in childcare or education. TAs are responsible for supporting teachers in the classroom, supervising activities, and carrying out administrative tasks. They might also help teachers to mark pupils’ work, speak with parents about their child’s progress, prepare the classroom for lessons at the beginning of the day, and help with tidying and organisation. In primary schools, there is normally one teaching assistant per class, however, there might be more if there are pupils with additional learning needs. There are over 380,000 TAs in the UK, and they account for around 25% of the school workforce.

How can I become a teaching assistant?

To work in a school or college, you’ll generally be required to have maths and English at GCSE level or equivalent. If you already hold these qualifications, then you can move straight to gaining a recognised TA qualification. If you’ve no prior experience working in education, then it's advisable to first gain a Level 2 Certificate in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools. On this course, you’ll learn all about child development, how to support teachers in delivering the curriculum in a classroom environment, and gain the skills and knowledge you need to become a great TA. As you study, you’ll work or volunteer in a school environment, so you can gain practical experience alongside theoretical knowledge and undergo assessments. If you already have some experience working in education, then you might choose to pursue a level three qualification instead. This requires extra placement hours and study modules, but is generally preferred by most schools, and will allow you to take on more responsibility and increased pay. Both courses take approximately one year to complete, and are suitable for primary, secondary, and college-level education. Once you’ve completed your qualification, you’ll be able to start working in schools as a TA, where you can expect to earn between £15,000 and £21,000 per year. Once you’re established, you’ll also have the option to qualify as a higher level teaching assistant, which might increase your pay to around £25,000. In short, for anyone considering starting a career in childcare or education, becoming a TA is a great choice.

Special educational needs (SEN) teaching assistant

What does an SEN teaching assistant do?

SEN teaching assistants work closely with teachers in a classroom environment to provide increased support for students with additional learning needs. They might work with children with conditions such as autism or sensory processing disorder, sensory impairments such as deafness, or specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Such students are not able to study in the same way as other children, and need extra help and support. An SEN teaching assistant will help to adapt traditional teaching methods to meet the needs of the pupil, mark and assess work, assist in the use of learning aids and equipment, use specialist skills such as sign language or Braille to communicate, assist during therapy sessions, and provide comfort and support if the child becomes distressed.

How can I become an SEN teaching assistant?

Similarly to regular teaching assistants, in order to specialise in helping children with additional learning needs, you’ll first need to gain a recognised teaching assistant qualification at level two or three. As for anyone starting a career in childcare or education, whilst you’re studying, you’ll need a work placement so that you can develop practical skills and be assessed. This could be undertaken on a paid or voluntary basis. If you know that you’d like to work with children with special educational needs, it’s a good idea to find a school which specialises in supporting these kinds of children, so you’ll get as much experience as possible. Once you’ve qualified as a teaching assistant, it’s ideal to gain further training by to pursuing a qualification in how to work with SEN children, such as our Additional Support for Children with Special Needs course. This course will give you specialised knowledge you’ll be able to take into the classroom, such as how to adapt the teaching of national curriculum subjects to individual pupils’ needs, how to work alongside other professionals such as speech and language therapists, and give you an understanding of how to support children with complex behavioural, emotional, and social difficulties. Additionally, you might consider studying British Sign Language or Makaton, which will allow you to communicate with children who have difficulties speaking and hearing. The average salary for an SEN teaching assistant is around £21,000, however, as you gain further qualifications and experience, you might expect to earn up to £25,000.


What does a childminder do?

You might think that a childminder’s job is simply to watch babies and children whilst their parents are away, but you’d be wrong! A good childminder works closely with parents to support a child’s physical and emotional needs, supports their education by delivering fun learning activities, and helps children learn real-world skills such as cooking. Being a childminder is a position of great responsibility, as they need to make sure the children in their care are safe and well looked after at all times.

How can I become a childminder?

Although you could become a childminder without any qualifications, it’s strongly advisable that you gain a recognised qualification such as a Level 3 Award in Preparing to Work in Home-based Childcare, as this will enable you to meet the highest standards of care, as well as reassure parents that you have the skills and knowledge to do your job well. You’ll study child development, how to support and safeguard children, legislation concerning home-based childcare, and everything else you’ll need to know to become an excellent childminder. Because setting up your own business can be very complicated and stressful, it’s also a good idea to gain a qualification which will walk you through the entire process. On our Starting a Childcare Business course, you’ll learn how to conduct market research, how to register and launch your business, the health, safety and hygiene rules you’ll need to abide by, and the toys and equipment you should invest in to get started. Once you have your qualifications and are ready to get started, you’ll need to register with Ofsted as a childminder agency. This is so that checks can be carried out on your business, to ensure that you’re meeting professional standards. On average, childminders earn around £16,000 per year, however, most fit their business around other part-time work, making it an excellent way to boost your income.

Early years practitioner

What does an early years practitioner do?

Sometimes known as ‘nursery nurses’ in the UK, early years practitioners work with young children in schools, nurseries, or childcare businesses. They have a number of responsibilities, such as helping children to learn and develop essential skills through play, planning and carrying out activities, and preparing them for the transition into school. They might also be responsible for taking care of a child’s physical needs, such as supervising mealtimes and changing nappies. Early years practitioners work closely with parents to ensure that a child’s individual needs are met, and keep progress records in order to ensure that their development is on track. They might also work with children with additional learning needs, finding ways to help and support them in the classroom.

How can I become an early years practitioner?

Most schools and nurseries will require you to hold maths and English GCSEs, or an equivalent. Assuming you have these qualifications, you’ll then need to either find a voluntary position in a childcare setting, or to work in a paid role which requires no prior experience, such as working as an assistant in a nursery. This is because you’ll need to be observed in a real-work environment as part of your qualification. If you’ve no prior childcare experience, then you might choose to study the Level 2 Diploma for the Early Years Workforce. This course is specifically designed for beginners, so it will cover everything you need to know about the role of early years practitioner, and how to meet the needs of children up to five years of age. For example, you’ll learn about health and safety within a childcare setting, how to support the emotional and physical wellbeing of young children, and how to plan appropriate care routines. After completing a level two diploma, you’ll be qualified to work in a number of roles under supervision, such as nursery practitioner or classroom assistant, and can then move on to level three qualifications. If you already have prior experience of working within the childcare sector, then you might choose to study a level three qualification straightaway, such as the Level 3 Diploma for the Early Years Workforce. This is a more advanced qualification which will enable you to take on roles with greater responsibility and higher pay. Following this, you’ll be able to gain further qualifications at levels four and five, which will prepare you for leadership or specialist positions. The salary of an early years practitioner varies greatly depending on qualifications and experience, but you might expect to start on around £19,000, with the potential of earning up to £29,000.

Higher Education Teacher

What does a higher education teacher do?

Are you a qualified engineer, a paramedic, or a probation officer? It doesn’t matter what your specialism is, if you hold a level three qualification, then you can become qualified to teach it in just one year, and help to train others achieve your level of skill and experience. You might work in a further education college, a work-based learning provider, a private training organisation, or in public sector training. You might plan and prepare lessons, mark students’ work and assess their progress, conduct one-on-one tutorials, and much more.

How can I become a higher education teacher?

To start any career in childcare or education, you'll normally need maths and English at GCSE level, or an equivalent. Provided you hold these qualifications along with a level three qualification in the subject you wish to teach, you’ll need to complete a qualification known as the Education and Training Award Level 3 RQF. This course is suitable for those with no prior experience who wish to teach at post-16 level. It takes around a year to complete, and you’ll qualify by submitting assignments you can work on at home, along with a ‘micro-teach’ assignment which you can complete by delivering a pre-prepared lesson to a group of colleagues, or another group of your choosing. Once you’ve completed this qualification, you’ll hold ‘associate teacher’ status, and you’ll be able to begin teaching in your subject area. To gain full Qualified Teacher and Learning Skills (QTLS) status, you’d need to progress to the Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training (DET). Gaining this qualification will increase your career opportunities, along with your earning potential. Working as a teacher in the post-16 sector, you might expect to begin on a salary of around £19,000 per year, which could well increase to £27,000 as you gain further qualifications and experience.

If you’re thinking of starting a career in education or childcare, then it might be a good idea to gain some voluntary experience first, just to check that you’ll enjoy the role and your working environment. Lots of volunteering opportunities, such as after-school clubs or youth schemes, take place outside working hours, so you can fit this around your existing commitments. You can also volunteer in the adult learning sector – simply contact your local college or adult education sector to find out more. Schools, colleges, and other learning institutions are looking for well-rounded, dependable individuals, who are serious about wanting to make a difference in students' lives. If this sounds like you, you could very well have a long and fulfilling career ahead of you.

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