What's it really like?
Lily Montgomery tells us more about the job.
I always knew that I wanted to work with children but was not sure about what career paths were available for me. I started working two afternoons a week at a nursery when I was at college studying for my NVQ in Children’s care. Although you should really be qualified before you start work, I knew the owner of the nursery so she allowed me to help out but I was never left unsupervised. Once I had completed this course I started working at the nursery full-time as an assistant. Although this meant I got to play with the children, I had no responsibility and knew that I would have to do further education to get to the level I wanted to work at.
I discussed my options with the nursery’s owner and she suggested that I should do a foundation course in Early Childhood Studies which would mean I could do a degree at a later date. I completed this one year course, which qualified me as a nursery nurse. After completing this I started working at a private nursery, where I still am now. I love the job which not only means I get to work with children all day but I also play a part in their development and learning. Each child is different so you have to adapt to their wants and needs. I have started to become interested in child psychology so have just enrolled in an Open University course in Early Childhood Studies. This will give me a better grounding in Child Development and also means that I will receive a better wage from the nursery.
Although it may take a long time for me to do, I have started to look into what I need to do to become a Child Psychologist. It will take a lot more education but this job has given me a great grounding for it. The job can be very tiring at times, and the children keep you on your toes, but every day is different and I love the additional responsibility available. The children are so rewarding and I cannot imagine working in an office, missing out on the experience of working in such a unique environment.
A nursery nurse is accountable for the well-being of children left in their care, and also plays a part in these children's early years development.
A nursery nurse is responsible for looking after and entertaining the children that are left in their care at a nursery. Nurseries cater for children aged between 6 months and 4 years, so the type of care needed varies greatly.
The starting salary for a trainee nursery nurse, or one who has very limited experience, is around £9,000 to £11,000, which varies according to its geographical location. Once qualified, the average wage is around £14,000 to £17,000 with nursery officers or managers earning up to £32,000.
Nurseries often look after a variety of different aged children at one time, so responsibilities co-ordinate according to the age group the worker is caring for. Main responsibilities include:-
- Designing activities for the children to engage in. These will usually include games or arts and crafts, with these having an educational or developmental aspect, like improving number skills through the use of counting games. Once these activities have been designed, the nursery nurse will also have to supervise them.
- The day will often include story time, which aims to develop language skills and encourage the children to read. The nursery nurse will have to read aloud to the children, making sure that they remain entertained and interested. Usually the nursery manager will choose which book is read according to the childrens’ skills and to promote maximum development.
- Older children will sometimes be taken on outings to places such as the zoo or to parks. The nursery nurse will be responsible for looking after a certain number of children on such events, usually about three each, so they are able to care for all of them at all times. The nursery manager will be in charge of getting parents’ permission to take the children on the trip, but the assistants and nurses may be involved in helping co-ordinate the day.
- It will also be the job of the nursery nurses to help the children to learn skills such as dressing and using cutlery. An awareness of all health and safety procedures is needed to guarantee that the child is safe. The nursery nurse will also have to be familiar with the Protection of Children Act 1999 so that they are aware of all appropriate boundaries.
- As the nursery nurse is involved in many developmental aspects of their charges, they will have to observe the children and write reports on their progress, and then relay this information with parents. Advice may sometimes be given to parents, so a close relationship is often formed in order to aid the child’s development. The nursery nurse will also have to report to their manager if they are concerned that the child is showing signs of abuse from home, but it will be the manager’s duty to follow these up.
- If the nursery also caters for babies, the nursery nurse will be responsible for feeding, bathing and changing them.
Formal qualifications are not always necessary as experience can sometimes be a suitable substitute. A good standard of basic education is usually required though, with most employers requiring Maths and English G.C.S.Es, with a minimum of two other G.C.S.Es or equivalent qualification, grade A-C.
To gain the experience necessary to work up to the position of a nursery nurse, it is possible to work as a nursery assistant first. However, some qualifications are required for this, namely: -
- CACHE Level 2 Certificate in Child Care and Education
- City & Guilds, CACHE or BTEC Certificate in Children's Care, Learning and Development
- NVQ Level 2 in Children's Care, Learning and Development (a work placement is usually needed for this which you will have to arrange yourself.)
If you want to start working as a nursery nurse without prior experience the main qualifications needed are:
- CACHE Level 3 Diploma in Child Care and Education
- BTEC National Diploma in Children's Care, Learning and Development
- NVQ Level 3 in Children's Care, Learning and Development – you may need to arrange a relevant work placement.
All these courses are available either part or full time, and so can be completed at the same time as gaining relevant work experience.
Some nurseries run apprentice schemes although this is rare. For a list of available schemes see this website
Nursery nurses need to be hard-working, good with children, tolerant and able to multi-task efficiently. Parents will often want to know how their children are getting on so good communication skills are also required.
The average day of a nursery day is likely to start early to accommodate parents who have to work. Shift work will sometimes be needed, with some nursery workers coming into the nursery early to guarantee it is set up before the children arrive. Some nurseries will open as early as 7am to give parents enough time to get to work after leaving their children. Again, the nursery will usually close in accordance with the needs of working parents which will usually be no later than 6 o’clock. Shifts will not last for more than 8 hours though, so nursery nurses will not be required to stay for the full day. Many nurseries will have a period in the day when the children sleep, which gives the workers the opportunity to take a break too.
The nursery is a noisy place, with children making lots of mess and noise. The job can often be physically demanding and nursery nurses will be required to stay on their feet for most of the day.
Some nurseries will allow you to volunteer for a few hours a week in order to gain some experience, otherwise working as a dinner lady will also provide some experience. However, working as a nursery assistant is the best way of getting to know what is required of a nursery nurse, (see above for details of necessary qualifications).
There are often local nurseries so the best way to find out about ones in your area is to look in Yellow Pages or The Nursery Search and approach them about job opportunities. Major nurseries which are represented across the country are:-
Whilst working as a nursery nurse it is possible to complete further qualifications including:-
- CACHE Level 3 Certificate of Professional Development (CPD) in Work with Children and Young People
- BTEC HNC/HND in subjects such as Advanced Practice in Work with Children and Families, or Early Childhood Studies
- A degree or foundation degree in, for example, Early Years or Early Childhood Studies.
If management responsibilities have been undertaken whilst working as a nursery nurse, it is possible to complete the NVQ Level 4 in Children’s Care, Learning and Development or to do an Open University course like the Level 4 Certificate in Early Years Practice.
The government has set a new aim to have all day care centres employing Early Years Professionals (EYPS) by 2010 which greatly increases career potential for people working in these places. There are four main routes of entry to work in such a position depending on previous experience and qualifications; see the Children’s Workforce Development Council for more details.