Not sure what to expect? Here’s a quick rundown of a day in the life of an Early Learning professional as well as advice on the types of jobs available and the qualifications you could gain.

A day in the life of an Early Learning professional

Each nursery and childcare centre does things differently but here’s what you might expect from an average day working in childcare.

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You’ll help set up and run a variety of activities and games for groups as well as individual children. There could be a trip outside on the go – or a game of counting hopscotch, a time for stories, growing plants from a seed – every day is different.

Whatever happens, you’ll get the chance to put ideas in the mix and work with your team to decide how to structure the day. It’s all about making sure the children are stimulated, happy and learning vital life skills along the way.


Now for a bit of lunch. This is often followed by some quiet time which could be reading a story together or putting on a puppet show.


Hand painting anyone? You’ll already have a plan of action for the afternoon with every single activity designed to help the children learn and develop new skills. So, what might seem like a simple game of den building could be helping their motor skills and coordination to develop, as well as their creativity and imagination.

Home time

Now it’s time to let the parents and carers take over again. Inevitably some of the children won’t want to leave because they’ve had such a good time with you. You’ll often have a quick chat with the parents and carers to give them a quick update on how their child is doing and what sort of day they’ve had.

After they’ve all gone, you might have a team meeting where you’ll discuss the children and how they are progressing. You might also start planning fun and engaging activities to try in the days and weeks ahead.

Connor, aged 22, Early Learning and Childcare Apprentice

“For anyone thinking about a career in Early Learning and Childcare, I’d say you should go for it. You need to have the patience to do it, because it’s not always an easy job, but if you think it’s for you, just do it.”

What jobs are there in Early Learning and Childcare?

There are a range of different jobs you can do, working in a number of settings. The settings could range from a traditional nursery, to a playgroup, to childminding. These are (essentially) the same thing – a place where our young children are nurtured and cared for and where they begin their learning journey with professional staff.

There are opportunities all over the country. And, the qualifications you need vary depending on the different roles. Here are some examples of the main roles in the ELC sector.

  • Support Worker
    As a Support Worker you’ll spend your day looking after small children – playing, caring for them, and making sure they are learning lots. This is an ‘entry level’ role and it’s a great way to get started in Early Learning and Childcare and train while you work.
  • Practitioner
    As an Early Learning and Childcare Practitioner you’ll be responsible for meeting the care, support and learning needs of the children in your care. It will be your job to make sure the children are all constantly developing and learning – you’ll often work with other practitioners and families to do this. Most school leavers will find that Practitioner is the right role for them.
  • Manager
    As a Manager (or Lead Practitioner) you’ll be tasked with the overall development, management and quality of the childcare provided. It will be your job to lead a group of staff, budgets, planning, and the bigger decision making in the nursery. You’ll also keep a close eye on each child’s development and will take the lead on positive and caring relationships with each child and their family.

What qualifications do I need?

Whether you’re a school leaver or going for your first job, there are different ways that you can get a job in Early Learning and Childcare. It’s also worth knowing that there will also be a chance to learn skills and get formal childcare qualifications while you work. There are loads of routes into childcare – so there’s bound to be a way in that suits your needs and goals.

Tell me more about qualifications

Where else can I go for advice?

Your careers adviser at school will be able to give you good advice. And you’ll find some really useful careers information online too. Talking to family and friends – especially if there’s someone you know who already works in Early Learning and Childcare is also helpful.


  • What qualifications do I need?
  • Which of these qualifications is best for me?
  • How long does it take to train for a role in Early Learning and Childcare?
  • Can I work and earn money while I train?
  • I have other related qualifications. Will they allow me to work in Early Learning and Childcare?

There are lots of different ways to start your career in Early Learning and Childcare, and nurseries across Scotland work in different ways. Generally speaking, however, there are three types of job in Early Learning and Childcare: Support Worker, Practitioner and Manager. To be able to work in one of these roles you will need to complete one of the relevant benchmark qualifications listed below. There are lots of other qualifications out there which will help you work towards one of these benchmark qualifications or help you progress your career. But remember – only those listed below will allow you to register for these roles.

Everybody learns in a different way and at a different pace. Thankfully, there are lots of different ways to complete your training. It might suit you to study part-time, or you might want to look into an introductory course or an access course that could lead onto one of the qualifications listed below. If you’re thinking of applying for a course in Early Learning and Childcare we’d always suggest you contact your local training provider to have a chat about what method of learning is best for you.

Here are the benchmark qualifications you will need for specific roles:

Support Worker
Any of the following qualifications allow you to work as a support worker:

  • NC in Early Learning and Childcare at SCQF level 6
  • SVQ Social Service (Children and Young People) at SCQF level 6


  • HNC Childhood Practice (at SCQF level 7)
  • SVQ Social Services Children and Young People at SCQF level 7

Manager / Lead Practitioner
Note: Anyone becoming a Lead Practitioner or Manager must have worked in the sector for at least two years before being able to undertake one of the following qualifications:

  • BA Childhood Practice
  • BA (Honours) Childhood Practice (at Strathclyde University)
  • Graduate Diploma Childhood Practice (at the University of West of Scotland)
  • SQA Professional Development Award Childhood Practice (SCQF level 9)
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Childhood Practice
  • Master of Education Childhood Practice (Glasgow University and Dundee University)

Anyone who completes one of the qualifications above will have gained the same level of knowledge, understanding and experience needed for their preferred role regardless of where or how they studied. Choosing which qualification to pursue depends on how you prefer to learn and what qualifications are available where you live.

All qualifications involve a large amount of practice based learning, which means you’ll be working with children in a nursery as part of your qualification. However, some qualifications have more practice based learning (spending time with children in a nursery) than others.

Generally speaking, training for an SVQ means you’ll spend more of your time ‘on the job’, while taking an NC or HNC will mean a little more time with your training provider each week, while still being in a nursery a couple of days each week.

Gaining a qualification to become a support worker or practitioner will take 12-18 months. Most qualifications are completed within one year.

Modern Apprenticeships (open to all ages) are another route into a career in Early Learning and Childcare. Most apprentices are paid a wage while they train. Similarly, some employers will allow those who undertake an SVQ, to ‘earn as they learn’, meaning you can earn a wage while training.

If you have related qualifications which do not appear on this list, please contact the Scottish Social Services Council who will advise you on whether the qualifications you have allow you to work in Early Learning and Childcare.