To a degree

Nursery World
Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Level 6 Qualifications in Early Years Education and Childcare


A body of evidence suggests that employing graduates is linked with improved outcomes for children in the early years.

Degree-level qualifications include Early Years Teacher Status, which is government-funded and takes between three months and several years, depending on the route.

Other options are early years degrees, and qualified teacher status (QTS) which can be achieved through the Postgraduate Certificate In Education.



Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) was launched in 2013, replacing Early Years Professional Status which was introduced in 2007 in an effort to create a graduate-led workforce. Early Years Teachers must demonstrate the Early Years Teachers’ Standards []. It is only available in England.

There are four routes into EYTS:

Undergraduate: Three to four years, full-time. Students take a level 6 degree in an early childhood-related subject along with EYTS. The course costs up to £9,250. Funding is not available but students could be eligible for student finance.

Graduate: One year, full-time. Course fees are covered by £7,000 government funding, paid to the provider. Bursaries of between £2,000 and £5,000 are available. []

Graduate employment-based:  One year, part-time. Aimed at graduates in paid employment in an early years setting who need training and further experience to demonstrate the early years teachers’ standards.   Course fees are covered by £7,000 government funding, paid to the provider, and the trainee’s employer is eligible for a £7,000 incentive.

Assessment-only: A self-funded route for graduates who are very experienced at working with children from birth to 5 years old and can demonstrate early years teachers’ standards without any further training.

EYTS candidates need maths grade 4 (C), English grade 4 (C) and science grade 4 (C), or equivalent. Those taking graduate routes require a 2:2 bachelor’s degree with honours or higher.

EYTS is considered the equivalent of Qualified Teacher Status, but does not bring equivalent pay and early years teachers cannot lead nursery or reception classes in maintained primary schools. The number of students enrolling on Early Years Initial Teacher Training courses was in decline but rose by 76 per cent in 2020/21 compared to the year before.

Around 30 universities and higher education institutions currently offer early years initial teacher training. A list can be found here

For funding, see here


To achieve QTS in England a candidate requires grade 4 (C) in GSCE English and maths, or the equivalent.  Those intending to teach children aged three to 11 (early years and primary) must also have grade 4 (C) in a GCSE science subject. For postgraduate teacher training programmes, candidates need to hold an undergraduate degree awarded by a higher education provider or a recognised equivalent qualification.

There are a number of routes into QTS:

  • As part of an undergraduate degree. Four years, £9,250, student finance is available (see Honours Degrees below)
  • As a postgraduate student, spending the majority of time in school placements. One year, around £9,250. Student finance is available. Some subjects offer bursaries. In addition to QTSstudents will obtain a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE)
  • School Direct: Full-time, salaried, one-year, employment based route for graduates, run by individual schools or a group of schools working closely with a university or school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) consortium. Students are employed as an unqualified teacher while they learn on the job. No tuition fees. Most programmes lead to a PGCE but some do not.

Practitioners who have been awarded Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS), Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) or Early Years Professional Status (EYPS) are considered full and relevant and can count towards the EYFS staff:child ratios at Level 3 or 6.


Degree apprenticeships are similar to higher apprenticeships, but differ in that they provide an opportunity to gain a full bachelor's degree (Level 6) or master’s degree (Level 7). A trailblazer group of employers chaired by Laura Upton, workforce improvement advisor at Leicestershire County Council, has developed a Level 6 apprenticeship standard which is waiting on approval from the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education.


There are currently around 320 early years degrees in England, with a wide variation in content.

In 2018 the Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network introduced Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner competencies [], which can be “bolted on” to an early childhood degree and ensure minimum standards are included, such as 80 placement days. Some 28 universities currently offer the competencies which allow students to gain the status of Graduate Practitioner.

Those who graduated after 1 September 2014 with a degree in early childhood studies or a related degree, count at Level 3 in the staff:child ratios, as long as the qualification they took was consistent with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education’s Subject Benchmark Statement for early childhood studies, which defines the standards that can be expected of a graduate. The qualification must also have included an element of assessed performance in an early years setting, and the practitioner must hold suitable Level 2 literacy and numeracy qualifications.

Most early years degrees are three-year courses with an entry requirement of at least two A-levels or equivalent, although each institution will have its own entry requirements and syllabus. Some universities will accept students with work-related experience rather than formal academic qualifications.

Qualifications include:


Probably the best known early years degree, it concentrates on the academic knowledge and professional awareness required by those working to meet the needs of young children up to the age of eight, and their families.


A BEd is an honours degree in education. Course contents vary, but all BEd graduates in England and Wales attain QTS in addition to their degree, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland a teaching qualification. The course generally takes three or four years full-time or four to six years part-time. If you have undergraduate credits from previous study you may be able to complete it in two years.The course is tailored to primary or secondary levels.


A number of universities have closed their playwork degrees in recent years. Leeds Beckett University is currently the only UK university to offer a playwork degree, the BA (Hons) Childhood Development and Playwork


The Department for Education has a list of pre-September 2014 Level 6 qualifications that count as “full and relevant” 

These include:

  • Ordinary degrees and honours degrees at Level 6 in early years, early years practice, early childhood studies, early childhood education and care, childcare or playwork with an element of assessed performance  in an early years setting.
  • A joint degree and joint honours degrees at Level 6 in early years, early years practice, early childhood studies, early childhood education and care, childcare or playwork where the mandatory core content includes a focus on early years, childcare and playwork with an element of assessed performance in an early years setting.
  • An honours degree at Level 6 in education studies where the core content includes a focus on early years, early childhood studies, childcare or playwork with an element of assessed performance in an early years setting.
  • Post graduate certificates and diplomas at Level 6 in early years, early childhood studies, early years practice, childcare or playwork with an element of assessed performance in an early years setting.

Practitioners who started a training programme leading to the award of Early Years Professional Status (EYPS), Early Years Teacher Status (EYTS) or Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) before 1 September 2014 can count in the EYFS staff:child ratios at levels 3 and 6 when they have been awarded the status.


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