United Kingdom

Parenthood and employment


Maternity/parental leave and benefits


Childcare provision

The UK Government is committed to promoting the welfare and development of all our young children. Good quality care and education in the early years raise educational standards and opportunities, and enhance children’s social development.

The Government is determined that all child care services, be they new or established, provide a secure and safe environment for children, not least so that parents can have confidence that their children are well looked after.

In March 2018, The Department of Education Issued a Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on  Early Education and Childcare, updating its full range guidance on government-funded early education and childcare for providers and local authorities, including the statutory guidance, the operational guidance, and the model agreement.[2]

The National Standards set up the provision of sessional care for children under the age of eight, i.e. children who attend day care for no more than five sessions a week, each session being less than a continuous period of four hours.

The standards aim to provide a stimulating and safe environment for children’s welfare and development and represent a baseline of quality below which providers should not fall. There are 14 national standards, each covering a separate area with supporting criteria, including: the suitability of carers and the qualifications/experience needed; the quality of the premises, equipment and facilities; the security of the children; their health and dietary requirements; and the provision for children with special educational needs or disabilities.

All 3 to 4-year-olds in England can get 570 hours of free early education or childcare per year. This is usually taken as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks of the year. Some 2-year-olds are also eligible. Parents can start claiming free childcare after their child turns 3. The date you can claim will depend on when their birthday is.

The free early education and childcare can be at: all types of nurseries and nursery classes playgroups and pre-school childminders Sure Start Children’s Centres. Parents can’t continue to claim free childcare once their child starts reception class in a state school.

Some 2-year-olds in England can get free early education and child care. It is the case if parents fulfil some criteria, for example are getting income support or job seeker’s allowance and in other cases which make them eligible. Children are also entitled to a place if they’re looked after by a local council or in some other special cases.

Qualification of nurses/childcare professionals in the UK

Until 2012 The British Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) was responsible for ensuring that people working with children had the appropriate skills. It was closed in 2012. The CWDC was assessing many of these qualifications to determine which can be considered ‘full and relevant’, and therefore can count towards the minimum ratio of qualified staff in any group setting.  CWDC passed to the Department for Education’s (DfE) Teaching Agency. Since May 2012, DfE developes the Britsh Childcare and Learning Standards.

Generally there are 5 types of qualifications in childcare in the UK: CACHE, NVQ , BTEC, City & Guilds and Montessori.

  • CACHE is a specialist body that develops courses and qualifications in childcare. Their courses range from entry level to advanced qualifications for sector professionals.
  • NVQ stands for National Vocational Qualification which allows people in the work place with no formal qualification the opportunity to get a recognised qualification. You’ll learn practical, work-related tasks designed to help you develop the skills and knowledge to do your job effectively.
  • BTEC are work related qualifications that provide a more practical, real-world approach to learning.
  • City & Guilds create relevant childcare qualifications that help learners gain the skills employers value.
  • The Montessori Method is an internationally renowned qualification. It is a method used that gives individual care and attention to a child’s needs allowing the child to fulfil their highest potential spiritually, emotionally, physically, and intellectually.

Different qualifications are grouped together into various levels.

  • Entry Level Qualifications: Are for beginners and provides the basics. If you don’t have any prior experience, and you don’t feel confident about your abilities, then this level could be a good place to start. You will gain the basics required in working with children, however at this level you will not have the ability to work in a specific job role. Entry levels will provide a step towards further education and training.
  • Level 1 Qualifications: Introductory qualifications that are ideal for those new to the industry. They cover basic tasks and knowledge. At this level you will gain relevant knowledge and skills to complete routine tasks under supervision.
  • Level 2 Qualifications: Are slightly more advanced and need learners to have some knowledge of the subject area. This level will provide you with a good knowledge and understanding and the ability to perform various tasks with some direction and guidance in various settings under supervision. Level 2 qualifications will provide you with the knowledge and skills you need for the following job roles, where you will be working under supervision:[6]
    • Au Pair
    • Babysitter
    • Creche Assistant
    • Mothers/Fathers Help
    • Nursery Assistant
    • Playgroup Assistant
    • Pre-school Assistant
    • Teacher Assistant
  • Level 3 Qualifications: Cover more complex tasks and begin to develop learners’ supervisory skills. Qualifications are designed to provide you with the knowledge required to be able to complete tasks and deal with fairly complex problems. This is an appropriate level for people who want to go to university, work independently in various settings, or supervise and train others. Level 3 qualifications are suitable for workers who will be working unsupervised in the following job roles:
    • Childminder
    • Maternity Nurse
    • Nanny
    • Nursery Nurse
    • Nursery Room Leader
    • Pre-school Leader
    • Senior Playworker
    • Teacher Assistant
  • Level 4 Qualifications: Require learners to have specialist or technical expertise. Qualifications will provide you with the ability to identify and use relevant methods and skills in complex and non-routine situations. This level is for those working in management and other professional roles. Level 4 qualifications are for people looking to work in the following job roles:
    • Nursery Deputy Manager
    • Nursery Manager
  • Level 5 Qualifications: Require learners to have a grasp of the most complex principles. They’re designed for those who are expected to manage people and resources.
  • Level 6 Qualifications: Are aimed at senior managers.
  • Level 7 Qualifications: For those seeking continuous professional development.

There are no set entry requirements for nursery assistants. Employers expect a good level of literacy and numeracy and may ask for GCSEs or equivalent qualifications. Employers may ask for a childcare qualification such as NVQ or BTEC. They usually expect some experience of childcare, which could be voluntary or paid, including experience within the family or babysitting. Apprenticeships in a childcare related role are sometimes available.  Nursery nurses have qualifications in childcare or early years.

This could be, for example

  • 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

To get onto a childcare course you need GCSEs, including English and maths, or equivalent qualifications.

The UK Department for Education’s Early Years Qualifications list sets out the qualifications needed at each level of childcare. Employers may also ask for qualifications in first aid or food hygiene.