Career Paths in Childcare

What Childcare Career Options Are There?

In this conversation, Rachel Carrell, CEO of Koru Kids, discusses the different possible childcare career paths with early years expert Laura Hoyland. For those considering a new career in childcare or a change of job within the childcare industry, this will be an interesting read! 

At Koru Kids, we offer two distinctive career paths for those wanting to get into the industry — becoming a nanny and becoming a childminder. We’d love to have you onboard, so please have a browse and get in touch with our friendly customer service team at if you have any questions!

The below is a transcript of the original conversation (conducted by Zoom at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic!), so please forgive the slightly unusual grammar and rhythm of the conversation! 

Rachel: So Laura, we have both had quite unusual careers in childcare. So, let’s briefly explain our own careers, and then there’s a few questions I’d love to ask you. I’ll go first. I came to childcare very late in my career, I had a whole different career, which was in health care. And I went into management in healthcare and then decided to found Koru kids because I had a baby, and I realised that the kind of childcare I wanted for my own kids didn’t exist, and so I decided that the only way to fix that was to found my own company. I would say, of various different ways of getting into childcare, that would be a very unusual one. How about you?

Laura:  Mine again was an unusual one. So, my mum was a childminder and one of five children. Having five children, it was easier to become a childminder than it was to send them all to different places to be cared for. So, I grew up with it and then decided that childcare wasn’t for me; it was something I was never going to do because it took my mum away from me. So many hours a day, I went to university to do history and philosophy. And then, during that time, my mum and dad decided to set up a second nursery and asked me if I wanted to take a year out of university and set it up.  And I went and set it up and never came back. 

So, I was 18 when I set my own nursery. At the time, I felt it was quite normal. Looking back, it was so unusual. I mean, you just don’t get managers that age — even now — and it came with a lot of problems. And it came with a huge learning curve because my whole team were older than I was. After I’d kind of done that role, I worked within nursery for eight years and then went out as a quality manager and ended up with 44 nurseries to look after. And then, the whole team that I had was made redundant when a huge buyout came in. 

So, I decided to become a quality manager or a consultant as they’re now called. At that time, there wasn’t many people doing it. There certainly wasn’t anybody in the north of England doing that and still not very many of us now. And we set up hopscotch at the same time as a consultancy. And then, I went to be an early years inspector. So, I gained a lot of experience within early years but in completely different roles. The inspector role is one that’s quite harsh. It comes with that. It comes with that scary factor that inspectors are just horrible people that find faults.  

Rachel: It’s great because I think your career shows that you can start off working in a nursery working directly with children, you can then move into management, and then there’s this whole other branch which probably most people don’t even realise exists or, you know, if you’re a 16-year-old, 17-year-old, you know, or a 30-year-old even. Thinking about childcare, you probably never dreamed that, that this kind of thing could be part of your career, but it kind of shows you where the career can go in some unpredictable directions.

Laura: And I work with a lot of apprentices now, so we still have a nursery that my sister manages, and she’s on maternity at the moment, so I’m in there two days a week. And it’s really put my feet back on the ground. I mean, my days are very long, I start at 7 a.m. and finish around 7 o’clock at night, so it’s a good 12-hour day on a Thursday and Friday. And I am working with the apprentices again and the people that want to make this a career but don’t know how to do it.

Rachel:  Brilliant, well, we’ve now had two examples of extremely unusual paths. Let’s talk about the more normal ones. So, we’ll cover nursery, nanny, childminder, and we’ve already done some of the other ones as well like inspectors and think that we’ll cover them, and then we’ll talk about some of the pros and cons. So, do you want to just tell me a little bit about the normal nursery path.

Laura: So, your normal nursery path: Usually, you would come in about 17, 18-years-old on an apprenticeship, usually very low paid as apprenticeships are, but you are getting your feet in through the door, and you’re getting that experience. So, people would do usually 30-plus hours a week in nursery and be supported with a qualification at the same time. You do get some people that have been to college and done the college courses that have taken usually two years to do a Level Three. They will have a placement in different settings, and they might do nursery. They might do school. They have to work with babies. They might have to work with preschool children to get in their Level Three. 

But there are openings for volunteers and for all the people who maybe want a change, and they come in, and they can train on the job, but some of those positions are in qualified positions, so they’ll come in, and they’ll decide whether to become qualified or whether to remain only qualified and just have a really lovely time working with the children. Some people don’t want all the qualifications. They just want a job which they love. And so you come in as an apprentice. 

Rachel: What’s the ladder then look like? I’ve heard these words like room leader, deputy manager — how does all that work?

Laura:  Usually you’d come in as an apprentice or an unqualified member of staff and gain your apprenticeship. So, usually a Level Two, that takes up to 12 months to complete. And then, you’ll go on to Level Three, which can take up to two years to complete. Once you have got the experience of working with those children, there’s always so many avenues you can go because at the moment, childcare, it’s so hard to recruit good stuff. So, everybody’s screaming out for room leaders, so there’s a lot of time going into training apprentices and newly qualified staff to become leaders, so you might have a big room leader a preschool room leader, a two-to-three room leader, and they are the person that kind of has a mini team underneath the, might have three or four nursery nurses, and a room of children depends on the age group, and they are almost like a mini manager that sits underneath the deputy manager. Once you’ve been quite a while, and you’ve got your experience, you can then move to a deputy manager. And then after a while, then you can apply to become a manager, but it’s a completely different role. Once you get to the management, there’s so much admin work to do. As a manager, you don’t get much time with the children.

Rachel: I think that’s the big trade off right is. I’ve heard, and I’ve spoken to a lot of people in nurseries who say, ‘I got into this job because I love playing: playing with the kids and spending time with the kids. But now I’ve got this trade off where, if I’m to advance in my career and frankly, earn more money, like, I have to stop doing the thing that is the reason that I did this career in the first place.’

Laura: Yeah, and that’s absolutely true of anybody that goes into childcare because they love children

and to hear the office side of it because nobody goes into childcare to manage an office. And over the last 10 years, being a manager is now being an operations manager, and whether that’s just a one site or, you know, it’s an area manager, but you end up doing registers, and they can take days to do if you’re in a nursery. You’re on the finance side. You’re chasing debts. So, actually, that manager’s role isn’t always the role that nursery nurses want to go to. They like to be nursery nurses. They want to stay as leaders and develop their knowledge within that role.

Rachel: And what do you think the pros and cons of, of a nursery career, I guess we’ve mentioned some of them, that this, this one about the tough choices you make as you get more senior that’s, that’s definitely one. Are there any other kind of big pros and cons you think of that career

Laura: There are a lot of nurseries out there, so if you don’t like working with a team, you can move to a different nursery. There are groups where there’s more progression, so you don’t have to stop at deputy manager and manager — you can move to an area manager or an operation role. I suppose the cons of working in industry are very long hours. Often, nurseries are open seven to seven; some will open on the weekend. A You also have to travel to work every day. So, unlike some of the other roles that I’m sure we’ll discuss where you can be home based, if you’re in a nursery, I know some of, some of the nursery nurses that I know at the moment of travelling up to two hours in and two hours out of Luton every day, and when you’re already working long hours and not getting paid a huge amount, that’s pretty painful.

Rachel: Yeah, I can think of a couple of deputy managers travelling two hours. They might do 11-12 hour shift then back home for another two hours. And it’s hard. It’s really high travel costs. There’s a lot of travel costs to consider if you’re in a nursery as well.

Laura:  Yeah, and of course, people who go into this kind of job generally tend to love kids, likely to at some point have kids of their own, and then you’re just spending your entire life away from your kids.

Rachel: There’s also, I think, a pro and a con, depends what kind of person you are, you’re working within a team. And that team becomes your family, because you’re actually with them for more hours of the working day than you are with your own family at home. So you’ve got to be a team player. But if you are, say a childminder, and you don’t like being a team player. You are on your own. You make all the decisions.

I think one of the things that has come through a lot when I’ve spoken to nursery workers is they often get a bit bored of being in exactly the same room or couple of rooms, every single day. They might literally work in one or two rooms every day for a couple of years. And yes, they might take the kids out occasionally, but it’s very different to the job of being a nanny where every single day can be different. If you want to go to a museum, you go to the museum. If you want to try out a different park, you try a different park. The amount of novelty is completely different. 

Laura: That’s absolutely right. If you are a childminder, you can decide what you do on a daily basis. If you’re in a nursery and you have 12 babies in one room and four members of staff, it’s not that easy to say, “Let’s go out,” because you’ve got 12 little people that you’re going to have to get dressed and take out. And you don’t have the same children, so you might have 120 families that are registered with you, and every other day, you’re seeing different children. So, although you will make a rapport with them, it’s not always as strong as a childminder who sees the same few families every week.

Rachel: Okay, well, let’s talk about nannies and childminders, then. Do you want to explain what a nanny and a childminder are?

Laura: A childminder is a person that will use their own house. A nanny will usually look after one family and go to the family’s house to look after those children. So, although they have a lot of common factors, they are a little bit different. With child minders, again, you can have multiple families, and you can have up to six children at any one time, depending on ages. Those children do tend to change during the week — some do, some don’t. Usually, either you work on your own, or they may work with one or two assistants so that they can have more children, but they are within their own home environment, which is a lovely way to be.

Rachel: Have you seen people make a successful transition from working in a nursery environment into a nanny or childminding environment?

Laura:   Yes, there are lots of people that do this; it usually happens when people have their own families, so they’ll go into nursery. They’ll get some experience that might be 17-18. They’ll really love working in nursery, then they decide to settle down and have their own children. And then it becomes a jump into childminding because they have that knowledge, but they want to be at home with their own children. And you can’t always financially afford to put them into nursery full-time. So, you can have a child as part of your registered numbers and take another family or couple of families, and financially, it works really well.

Rachel: Nursery is great preparation for a childcare career. I think it’s extremely useful to see literally hundreds of children to give you a really strong idea of the variation in children. What do you find that people find either great or difficult about making the leap?

Laura: The great things are, firstly, they’re at home. You can put your washer on. You can stick something in a slow cooker for dinner that night. You’re at home with your own children, so you can get them into the routine that you want them to be in. You get a very, very good rapport with your parents because you might only have a few parents, and you really understand what they want and what their needs are. I think one of the other big pros is being able to plan your own routine every day. You don’t have to be in a nursery routine where it’s breakfast time at eight, it’s mid morning snack with your activity, you know, staff have to go on lunch. As a childminder, if you do want to go out and the weather changes, you can drop everything and do exactly what you want to do the whole day.

Rachel: And what about, financially, is the amount you earn different between nurseries and childminders?

Laura: A lot depends on your qualification within a nursery. As you move up that career ladder, you get paid a little bit more every time you make a move. With childminders, you set your fees. So, if you are a childminder who only wants to work three days a week, you know what your earning limit is. If you want to earn more, you’d have more days and more hours or take on more children.

There are a couple of downsides. One, you’ve got to kind of have that mindset of, “Yes, it is my house, but it’s also a working environment.” A lot of childminders portion off part of their home to childminding, which is always set up. It always has a cosy area, the resources are always out, and it might be a playroom, or it might be a conservatory. And those are the kinds of people that say, “Right, that’s my working environment. At the end of the day, I’m closing that off and the rest of the space is for us as a family.”  A hard thing I find for some people moving over is the teamwork. They are very much on their own, or they feel they’re on their own. Most childminders feel very isolated and very lonely; there’s no network for them. The local authorities used to have cluster groups, so people could all get together, could do training together; that doesn’t happen anymore. So, they do feel very much on their own. There are ways around that. There are communities that can be built. And if you’re a childminder that wants to find those people, you can do that. But that’s the number one challenge that tends to come out. Who do they go to when they have a problem? Or if they’re worried about something, or they just need some advice? They can’t go to the regulator; where do they turn to?

Rachel: Yeah, you’re just so much more in charge of your own destiny as a childminder in general, aren’t you? You can set your own hours. You decide how many children. You decide what your rates are going to be. You decide how much of your home, and where, and all these things. You have so much more control. And it sounds like one of the big downsides with that is—sometimes that can be a bit scary, having that much freedom. But Koru Kids support bridges that gap, right? We’re providing community and support, helping the child minders make the most of that freedom that they’ve got.

Laura: Yes, that’s one of the big benefits of Koru Kids because they’re not on their own. We’ve also got assistants that we can pair with our childminders. I think for a lot of childminders that are registered with Ofsted, they have to do all that recruitment process. And if you’ve never recruited anybody, how do you know you’re doing that right? Whereas we’ll do all that for them, and give childminders a selection of assistants to choose from with all the paperwork done.

Rachel: Yeah, it’s one of the things I’m really excited about with this. Earlier, we talked about this trade-off between developing your career and spending less time looking after the kids. In nursery, there’s this difficult trade-off where, if you want to advance, you spend less time doing what you love, which is being with the kids. But what we’re doing with childminding is allowing people to develop, earn more, have this great career. And Koru Kids is taking on a lot of the other stuff so that childminders can spend as much time as possible with the kids. So, we’re taking on the payments and the recruitment. And simplifying reporting and the training and making all of that really seamless and easy. Doing all that so that the childminders have as much time as possible to spend time either with their mindees, or their own kids.

Laura:Yeah, I think one of the huge burdens when I was inspecting childminders, time and time again, was the paperwork side. And the myths! Because, actually, there is not that much prep work to be done.

Rachel: Exactly, and one of the things that, again, I’m really pleased that we can do is give people the confidence that they are allowed to just do the small amount of paperwork that is required. And that’s okay, and they can be amazing childminders. They don’t have to copy what they might have seen on social media. You know, I’ve seen some quite scary things of Ofsted outstanding childminders, who, I’m sure, are wonderful childminders who just really like doing a lot of paperwork, and so they do a lot of it. And sometimes, that can confuse people into thinking that they have to do a lot. I think and I hope Koru Kids can give people confidence that if you follow our system, you can be outstanding. And focus on the really important thing, which is: what are you doing with the kids? With hardly any paperwork.

Laura: Yeah, actually being outstanding is about knowing those children. It’s not about a piece of paper; you have to really know those children. So, if you are spending day-in, day-out, with the children, learning through your everyday routine to activities by going places, by understanding what parents want, you’ll do well. It’s not about what you write on a piece of paper.

Rachel: Brilliant. And then, the one that we haven’t covered is nanny, and that’s the one that I’ve devoted the last three or four years of my life to really thinking about a lot. And so maybe if I can just give a summary of the nanny career.  

Koru Kids can take people at the absolute entry level: people who have had some childcare experience, but it can be quite informal. You know, it can be coached a sports team; you know, the eldest in a big family; done lots of babysitting, that kind of thing. And it’s worth emphasising that this is for looking after older children. We would never put someone like I just described in charge of a baby. But they might be wonderful for looking after a seven-year-old after school. Then, as people gain experience, they can look after more difficult situations — more kids younger kids — that kind of thing. And basically, the way the career works is it can go anywhere from part-time, starting at about nine pounds an hour, going up from there. You know, the really top nannies can be earning 40,000 pounds a year, even higher, for the very, very, very top ones that end up going and working in Saudi Arabia for the royal family. So, the sky’s the limit for the career actually.

But beyond the financial, I think the things that stand out as, as the really attractive features of nannying is, again, this freedom and novelty — the idea that you are able to do lots of different things. You can plan your days, like you said before. If it’s a sunny day, you can drop everything and decide to have an impromptu picnic in the park. I think one of the cons of it, and something that’s different to childminding, is you’re an employee when you’re a nanny. Whereas, with childminding, you are self-employed. And so, as an employee, your employer is likely to be more directive about what you do. You’re working in their home, and you know, right now during the pandemic, maybe they are home too. So, it may have less of a free feeling, than, than the childminder, where it is your business, you’re self-employed, and you are very much in charge of your own destiny.

Laura: So with a nanny, are there hours set by the family, rather than childminder who sets their hours from the get go?

Rachel: Yeah, that’s right. In practice, I’m not sure it makes that much of a difference because it’s always a negotiation. So, you know, if you were a childminder, and you said, “I want to work from two in the afternoon until midnight,” well, okay, fine. You can say that, but I’m not sure you’re going to get many families, you know? So, in order to make your business work, you probably need to offer what families want. And it’s the same thing with nannies, you know. An employer could say, “I need you to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Well, they’re not going to get many applicants for that job unless they’re paying an extraordinary amount. So, it’s always a negotiation, and at the end of the day, I think people figure out what works for both parties. But, yes, you’re right. It does end up being a little bit more employer-controlled on the nanny side. You see that with holidays, for example. It’s much more usual for an employer to say to a nanny, “These are going to be your holidays.” Whereas for childminders, it’s much more whatever they say. I, personally, used to have a wonderful childminder for my own children. She took every August off, and that was just what she did. So, I think the edges… it makes a difference.

Laura: And I think maybe we’ll conclude with this. To me, it kind of depends on what life stage you’re in and what the context is. You know, we’ve said that nursery can be great. It’s a wonderful foundation. It’s a wonderful preparation, but then as you have your own children, you often move to a different life stage. And it’s also depending on your personality. You know, like people who want to have more control over their own destiny. That’s one of the wonderful things about childcare—you can pick your path. 

At Koru Kids, we offer two distinctive career paths for those wanting to get into the industry:  becoming a nanny and becoming a childminder. We’d love to have you onboard, so please have a browse and get in touch with our friendly customer service team at if you have any questions!