Are early years practitioners the same as teachers?

Are early years practitioners the same as teachers?

In the education sector, all professionals play a crucial role in shaping minds, however early years educators (and practitioners in particular) shape young minds and set the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

Early years practitioners take a hands-on approach to education, from phonics to fun playtime, developing social skills to setting the foundations of counting and literacy. In this article, we will explore what an early years practitioner is, what the role includes, and compare the role to that of a mainstream teacher, to help you make a clear decision on what educational age group you’ll thrive in.

What is an early years practitioner?

An early years practitioner will work with children aged zero to five, most often in nurseries. However, an early years practitioner can also work in a preschool or childcare environment.

These dedicated professionals look after young children and babies' mental, social, emotional and educational development. Sometimes called nursery nurses, early years practitioners will enjoy being around young children and be able to take a hands-on approach, making sure children are safe, fed, looked after and learning while in their care.

Day-to-day roles include:

  • Looking after children’s physical needs: such as food, water, nappy changing/toilet training.
  • Creating stimulating learning, following the early years foundation stage (more on this later).
  • Monitoring the child’s progress, feeding back to parents and nursery room leaders.
  • Safeguarding children and reporting any concerns.
  • Administering first-aid (when necessary).

Some practitioners specialise more in working with babies, while others prefer working with four to five-year-olds. An early years practitioner can also specialise in working with children with special needs and learning disabilities.

Woman teaching early years class in front of whiteboard

What’s the difference between an early years practitioner and a teacher?

Both early years practitioners and teachers are highly appreciated and skilled within their own rights. When starting out in your education career, deciding between early years and mainstream teaching may feel like a fork in the road. The qualifications you receive for your hard work and dedication will be what drives your career.

To teach in mainstream schools, you need to gain your QTS, however in early years, you will need a Level 2 or Level 3 qualification in childcare to be an early years practitioner. If you don’t have any qualifications, but have relevant experience with children (even babysitting) you can work in an early years setting as an assistant or educator.

If you’re a teacher with QTS, depending on the subject, this can be transferred to a Level 6 qualification in childcare. This will then open the door to roles such as an early years teacher. As well as qualifications, gaining a role as an early years teacher also requires relevant experience working with young children, and of course a personality that shines and engages with children of a young age.

Within the lessons themselves, early years practitioners employ play-based learning approaches to nurture holistic development, laying the foundation for future lessons that a teacher would teach using the UK national curriculum. The lessons, though fun and bright in nature, promote the acquisition of fundamental skills like language, motor coordination, and problem-solving abilities, all while providing personal care and attention in a supportive environment.

What is early years foundation stage?

We mentioned early years foundation stage earlier in the daily requirements of an early years practitioner. Early years foundation stage behaves like the national curriculum; it is a series of learning goals, subjects and topics that are mandatory for those in early years to teach, to help with child development.
Subjects and topics include:

  • communication and language
  • physical development
  • personal, social and emotional development
  • literacy
  • mathematics
  • understanding the world
  • expressive arts and design

Assessments will take place for children between the ages of two and three, and again when they are five years old.


Early years practitioners play a vital role in shaping young minds and preparing children for a lifelong journey of learning. While they may not bear the title of ‘teacher’, their expertise, dedication, and impact on early childhood development are undeniable. If you have a passion for working with young children and want to make a difference in their lives, consider a career in early years education as an early years practitioner.