Play professionals


Make A Real Difference

Northern Ireland has a professional, qualified and well-led play workforce, comprised of passionate and driven people that have our children and young people’s health and well-being at the very core of their professional lives.

Play can take place in many different settings: in school, childminders, crèche, nursery, pre-school, all-day childcare, out-of-school care, community centres, parent and toddler groups, youth centres, hospitals, prisons etc. This play is guided by a workforce who are investing in children and young people’s lives through providing quality play experiences.

Workforce Development

Play is seen by many as the most important thing that children and young people do. It therefore follows that those who are in a position to make play happen, need to be valued and supported in the work that they do.

Workforce development refers to the mechanism used to equip staff and volunteers with the skills and knowledge they require to allow them to effectively deliver and improve services to children and young people.

Workforce development can include:

  • Training and formal qualifications
  • Induction
  • Work shadowing
  • Supervision
  • Appraisals
  • Reflective practice
  • Reading
  • Mentoring

Playwork Within The Children’s Workforce

There is growing recognition and understanding of the importance of investing in children and young people. In recent times, the interest and understanding of the value of play (along with the impact of restricted or limited play) has gained momentum with play increasingly being seen as a key factor not just for development, but for mental health and well-being. Research from a range of sources post-Covid have clearly demonstrated this.

Policy frameworks that support integrated children’s services throughout childhood have developed, requiring a programme of reform and sustained investment across the age range. Consistent with Success Through Skills this means that thousands of qualified workers will be required to create a children’s profession based on a more unified qualifications and skills framework.

This will support a more coordinated approach between professions, more flexible career paths, and less fragmented services for children and families.

The Playwork profession, recognised by Social Services as the most appropriate qualification for School Aged Childcare, is a key cog in the overall children and young people’s sector.

This section of the website provides a range of information and resources related to workforce development.

Information on Playwork and Play Training is available in the relevant sections on this website.

Where Do Playworkers Work?

Playwork takes place in a variety of settings including School Age Childcare, daycare and youth work settings. Playwork can also be facilitated in specialist settings such as hospitals, extended school provision, children’s homes and prisons. Playwork can be taken to outdoor environments, e.g. via play rangers and mobile play provision. Play is also a fundamental part of out-of-school provision.

Playwork is an exciting and rewarding career option, with many different job roles, and training and qualifications from entry to degree level.

Some playworkers are volunteers, others work part-time or seasonally, combining playwork with other jobs. Many playwork settings will have a mix of full-time, part-time and volunteer staff. You can build a career in playwork, whether by working as a playworker or play leader in an out-of-school club; as a playworker in School Age Childcare; as a play ranger on play projects such as adventure playgrounds; a youth worker particularly in junior programmes; or working for a local authority as a play development officer or manager.

What Qualifications Do Playworkers Need?

There are a range of qualifications available for those working with children and young people. Firstly, check what is required by the registering authority. If you want to work in a registered childcare provision consult the Childminding and Day Care for Children Under Age 12 – Minimum Standards document.

The Minimum Standards identifies playwork as the most appropriate qualification for out-of-school club staff. Playwork qualifications equip practitioners for working with a broad age range of children in a broad range of settings.

Playwork qualifications are underpinned by the Playwork Principles and delivered to equip practitioners to deliver playwork practice.

What Qualification Is Best For Me?

A number of factors need to be taken into account when determining which qualification is best for you:

Purpose of Setting:

The focus of the setting is a key element in determining the most appropriate qualification. The aim and focus of the setting will guide what staff do.

For example, a setting with a focus on education may ask for a childcare qualification while a setting that focuses on play and promoting play is likely to ask for a playwork qualification.

Age Range:

Another important factor is the age range of children attending the setting. Childcare qualifications cover a broad age range of 0 to 16, but you may focus on one age range when completing coursework in order to provide evidence for the qualification. This may not provide the relevant experience or knowledge for the older age range and therefore not be suitable for a play or out-of-school setting. Currently you can work in School Age Childcare with an Early Years qualification, but social services recognise that playwork is the most appropriate qualification, therefore employers typically prefer it, and often require those who don’t have it to do some playwork training such as the Transition Award (see below).

Employers are looking for:

There are a number of things that an employer is looking for including relevant qualifications, suitable experience of working with children and young people, an ability to work alone and as part of a team, good interpersonal skills, an ability to communicate with parents, and someone who understands the challenges that come with working with children and young people.

For more information read An introduction to playwork qualifications and careers in Northern Ireland.

National Occupational Standards (NOS)

National Occupational Standards establish the benchmark of competence required in the sector and form the key component of many qualifications.

NOS form the basis of qualifications and training programmes. The standards also help define job roles, measure staff performance, and identify and develop routes for progression and professional development. This means that playwork qualifications cover the areas identified as areas required to work as playworkers.

PlayBoard works closely with the Playwork Education and Training Council for Northern Ireland (PETC NI), who along with the other Playwork Education and Training Councils from across Great Britain are currently reviewing the Playwork National Occupational Standards, and ensuring their relevance to working as a playworker in Northern Ireland.

Employers’ Forum: Early Years, Care, Education and Play NI

PlayBoard supports the sector-wide Employers’ Forum which examines the needs of employers and employees across the sector, taking actions to address them including the communication of these issues to the relevant authorities.

Members of the Forum promote a career in the sector and have produced an information leaflet to support this.

Playwork Qualifications

Playwork qualifications are available at Level 2, 3 and 5.

Examples of playwork qualifications:

  • Level 2 Diploma in Playwork – for those new to the sector, and working in an assistant role.

  • Level 3 Diploma in Playwork – for those particularly working in a supervisory role.

  • Level 5 Diploma in Playwork – for those working in a management role.

  • Level 3 Award in Transition to Playwork – for those who currently hold a Level qualification in Early Years, Education, Youth work or Forest Schools and wish to extend to Playwork.

  • Honours Degree in Playwork.

Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications are available for full-time study and are free to all who meet the course and college criteria – contact the training provider below for details.

Level 2 to 5 qualifications are also available part-time (some are free, subject to criteria). Contact the training provider below for further details.

For further information on the above courses click on the links below:

The Playwork Education and Training Council for Northern Ireland (PETC NI)

Coordinated by PlayBoard NI, the primary role of PETC NI is to ensure a co-ordinated approach in implementing and supporting playwork qualifications across Northern Ireland. It works alongside partner Playwork Education and Training Councils in Great Britain.

Over the years, PETC NI has been involved in a range of strategic projects aimed at supporting and promoting playwork education and training. This has included:

  • Tailoring the UK Playwork strategy for a NI audience

  • Hosting seminars and conferences

  • The development of resources, including a showcasing DVD

  • Information booklets providing information on playwork qualifications and career pathways in Northern Ireland

  • Research projects to assist our lobbying for recognition of playwork qualifications

  • Review of the National Occupational Standards in playwork

  • Review of playwork qualifications Level 2 to 5.