David Yates, 23, is a newly qualified Early Years Professional (EYP). He's currently the only man working at Tinsley Green Children's Centre, which is based in Sheffield.
What do you actually do?
I'm an Early Years Professional, which is a new graduate qualification for people who work with young children from birth to five years old. Basically, the job is somewhere between being a nursery nurse and a formal nursery teacher. It's different to anything that's gone before, so I feel a bit like an ambassador, promoting good practice among my colleagues. The qualification has a theoretical background. It's based on research into pre-school education, and takes into account how children learn in different ways. There's a lot of everyday interaction with staff, children and parents. I lead activities and try to foster the children's personal, social, and emotional development.
What's your working schedule like?
I work Monday to Friday, doing early shifts from 8.30am to 4.30pm, or late shifts from 10am until 6pm. After breakfast, we do creative activities such as painting and drawing, or messy play with tactile things like Play-Doh. We have a climbing frame outside, and a water tray the children can splash around in. Toddlers love scooping and tipping dry pasta and sand. For babies and toddlers, we focus on their sensory experiences using crinkly fabrics, pine cones, or CDs hanging up so that they sparkle in sunlight. We also have a goldfish, to teach children about caring for animals. Lunch is from 11.30am to midday, and then we have group time, where the children sit in small groups, sing songs and do puzzles.
What's the best thing about it?
The children. It's wonderful seeing a child grow and learn. Knowing that you're part of their day-to-day development is amazing. I think the children see me differently because I'm a bloke, so that's something special as well.
What's not so great about it?
It is a huge responsibility to care for someone else's children right through a long day. Sometimes, it really hits home to me that the parents are entrusting us with their children during their first years when they go through all these developmental milestones, such as learning to walk and to talk. It means that you want to do the job right.
What skills do you need to do the job well?
You should have patience, tolerance and understanding, and you've got to be very hands-on. You need to be a big kid sometimes, when working with little kids – but there's a very serious side, too. You need to be comfortable talking to parents as well as children, and you've got to be professional and well organised, because you are in charge of someone else's child. We have to write down how long a child slept for, how many times we changed a child's nappy, and fill out any accident and medication forms.
What advice would you give someone with their eye on your job?
I'd say that you've got to really want to do it. Definitely get some work experience with a nursery or childcare centre before you commit to a course. You'll need a degree to get Early Years Professional status, but there are four different pathways to get the qualification. I did the full-time route, which meant a year at university, with three different placements at childcare centres. Working with small children is not for everyone, and some people on my course found that it wasn't what they thought they'd signed up for. Speak to people who've done it, and try to get as much information as you can.
What about salary and career path?
There is no national pay scale at the moment, so it's up to individual children's centres to decide how much they can or should pay Early Year Professionals. Starting salaries are roughly £16,000 to £20,000 a year, depending on where you work in the country. With experience, you could become a nursery manager, or act as a consultant to childcare providers.
For more information on the four different pathways towards qualifying as an Early Years Professional, visit the Children's Workforce Development Council at www.cwdcouncil.org.uk and follow the links to EYPS